United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE JOHN Z. BOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Thomas Imperatrice seeks review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying his
application for disability benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act. (Doc. 1; Doc. 18.) For the reasons
below, the Court will vacate the Commissioner's decision
and remand this matter for further administrative
11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits. (AR at 14.) In November 2012,
Plaintiff's application was denied. (Id.) In May
2013, Plaintiff's application was denied upon
reconsideration. (Id.) On November 14, 2013, a
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joan
G. Knight. (Id.) On March 26, 2014, the ALJ ruled
Plaintiff is not entitled to disability benefits because he
was “not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of
the Social Security Act, ” through June 30, 2013, the
last date insured. (Id. at 24.) On July 28, 2015,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration. (Id. at 1.)
September 21, 2015, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the
ALJ's decision by filing a Complaint in this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On June 7,
2016, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of
this case to the Social Security Administration for an award
of benefits. (Doc. 18.) On August 4, 2016, Defendant filed a
Response Brief in support of the Commissioner's decision.
(Doc. 22.) On September 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Reply
Brief. (Doc. 25.)
Standard of Review
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provides for
judicial review of the Commissioner's disability benefits
determinations. The Court may set aside the
Commissioner's disability determination only if the
determination is not supported by substantial evidence or is
based on legal error. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625,
630 (9th Cir. 2007); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d
172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). “‘Substantial
evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than
a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d
1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a
whole, weighing evidence that both supports and detracts from
the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720;
Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir.
1993). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts,
ambiguity, and determining credibility. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995);
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir.
1989). The Court “must uphold the ALJ's decision
where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation.” Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039.
“However, a reviewing court must consider the entire
record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a
‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'”
Orn, 495 F.3d at 630 (quoting Robbins v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). The
Court reviews only those issues raised by the party
challenging the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v.
Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001).
Similarly, the Court reviews “only the reasons provided
by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm
the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir.
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process
eligible for Social Security benefits, a claimant must show
an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d
1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). A person is under a disability
if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
follows a five-step evaluation process to determine whether
an applicant is disabled under the Social Security Act:
The five-step process for disability determinations begins,
at the first and second steps, by asking whether a claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful activity” and
considering the severity of the claimant's impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(ii). If the
inquiry continues beyond the second step, the third step asks
whether the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listing under 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app. 1 and meets the duration requirement.
See Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
claimant is considered disabled and benefits are awarded,
ending the inquiry. See Id. If the process continues
beyond the third step, the fourth and fifth steps consider
the claimant's “residual functional capacity”
in determining whether the claimant can still do past
relevant work or make an adjustment to other work. See
Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv)-(v).
Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir.
2013). “The burden of proof is on the claimant at steps
one through four, but shifts to the Commissioner at step
five.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009).
the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled and is not entitled to benefits.
(AR at 15-24.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his
alleged onset date of October 9, 2009 and the last date
insured. (Id. at 16.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“lumbar spine degenerative disc disease (DDD) with
stenosis; and obesity.” (Id.) At step three,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments” in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404. (Id. at 17.)
four, the ALJ found the following:
[Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(b[)], and as functionally described in
Exhibit 4A, except he was limited to sitting and standing for
one hour at a time before needing to change positions.
at 18.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is “unable
to perform any past relevant work” as a truck driver,
apartment maintenance, or fitter. (Id. at 22.) The
ALJ found, however, that “[t]hrough the dated last
insured, considering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy
that [Plaintiff] could have performed.” (Id.
at 23.) Given that finding, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
“was not under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, at any time from October 9, 2009, the alleged
onset date, through June 30, 2013.” (Id. at