United States District Court, D. Arizona
Ross R. Read, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant.
Honorable John Z. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge.
Ross R. Read seeks review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying him social
security benefits under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1; Doc
21.) For the reasons below, the Court will vacate the
Commissioner's decision and remand this matter for
further proceedings consistent with this Order.
September 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset of
May 25, 2012. (AR 173-76.) Plaintiff's application was
initially denied on December 11, 2012, and upon
reconsideration on July 1, 2013. (Id. at 104-07,
112-14.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on
March 27, 2014. (Id. at 42-79.) In a decision dated
June 4, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Cheffins
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (Id. at
26-41.) On March 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review
of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration. (Id. at 1-6.)
exhausted the administrative review process, on April 18,
2016, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's
decision by filing a Complaint with this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On September 22, 2016,
Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of this case
to the Social Security Administration for an award of
benefits. (Doc. 21.) On November 7, 2016, Defendant filed a
Response Brief in support of the Commissioner's decision.
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 both the evidence that supports and that
which 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. 2014).
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 is not disabled and is not entitled to benefits.
(AR at 35.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets
the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act
through December 31, 2017, and Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 25, 2012, the alleged
onset date. (Id. at 31.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: “psoriatic arthritis, left knee
degenerative joint disease, status post meniscectomy in 2008
and replacement in 2013, degenerative disc disease status
post fusion of the lumbar spine, and sleep apnea (20 CFR
404.1520(c)).” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff does not “have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and
404.1526).” (Id. at 32.)
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand
five out of eight hours a day; sit six out of eight hours a
day; frequently push or pull with the bilateral upper
extremities; occasionally use foot control operations for the
left lower extremity; never climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and
climb ramps or stairs; frequently balance; and frequently
handle and finger bilaterally. [Plaintiff] must avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat; extreme cold;
excessive vibration; irritants such as fumes, odors, dust,
and gases; hazardous machinery (except motor vehicles); and
determined that Plaintiff could perform his past work as a
registered representative and detective. (Id. at
35). Given that finding, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is
not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social
Security Act. (Id.)
alleges that the ALJ failed to articulate clear and
convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
testimony, and that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the
medical evidence in assessing ...