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Bolinaga v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 19, 2017

Andres Bolinaga, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. G. Murray Snow, United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Andres Bolinaga's appeal of the Social Security Administration's decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 8, 2012, Andres Bolinaga applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010. (Tr. 18.) Bolinaga's claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) He then appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.) The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on September 11, 2014. (Tr. 42.)

         In evaluating whether Bolinaga was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] At step one, the ALJ determined that Bolinaga had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (Tr. 20.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Bolinaga suffered from severe impairments of “coronary artery disease, status post coronary artery bypass graft and stents; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (Tr. 27-28.)

         The ALJ then made the following determination of Bolinaga's residual functional capacity (“RFC”):[2]

[T]he claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he had environmental limitations and should avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold, avoid even moderate exposure to extreme heat, and avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc.

(Tr. 28.) The ALJ therefore found that Bolinaga retained the RFC to perform his past relevant work as a “computer information technology (IT) manager.” (Tr. 32.) The ALJ found that this work best fit the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) listing for “Systems Programmer, ” but noted that to the extent the work might also be characterized as “Support Analyst Supervisor” or “Systems Analyst, ” Bolinaga retained the RFC to perform those jobs as well. (Id.)

         On June 8, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1.) Bolinaga filed the complaint underlying this action on August 10, 2016, seeking this Court's review of the ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         A reviewing federal court need only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). “When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.” Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Id. (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Nor may the Court “affirm the ALJ's . . . decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not discuss.” Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).

         II. Analysis

         Bolinaga contends that the ALJ (1) failed to consider evidence that would demonstrate that Bolinaga met the step three listing for coronary artery disease; (2) failed to correctly categorize Bolinaga's past relevant work; and (3) improperly discredited Bolinaga's pain testimony based on his daily activities.

         A. Step Three Listing

         At step three, the ALJ must “consider[] whether the [claimant's] impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed impairment.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Bolinaga contends that the ALJ should have found Bolinaga to meet Listing 4.04(C), for coronary artery disease. That listing is met by:

Coronary artery disease, demonstrated by angiography (obtained independent of Social Security disability evaluation) or other appropriate medically acceptable imaging, and in the absence of a timely exercise tolerance test or a timely normal drug-induced stress test, an MC, preferably one experienced in the care of patients with cardiovascular disease, has concluded that performance of exercise tolerance testing would present a significant risk to the individual, with both 1 and 2:
1. Angiographic evidence showing:
a. 50 percent or more narrowing of a nonbypassed left main coronary artery; or
b. 70 percent or more narrowing of another nonbypassed coronary artery; or
c. 50 percent or more narrowing involving a long (greater than 1 cm) segment of a ...

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