United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge
before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Randy Russell
Frantz, which challenges the Social Security
Administration's decision to deny supplemental security
income. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, this Court
affirms the determination of the Commissioner.
26, 2013, Mr. Frantz protectively filed an application for
supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset
date of July 1, 2013. (Tr. 22.) His claim was initially denied
on December 2, 2013 and it was denied again upon
reconsideration on March 21, 2014. (Id.) Mr. Frantz
then filed a written request for a hearing and he testified
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Sheldon
P. Zisook. (Id.) On August 31, 2015, the ALJ issued
a decision finding Mr. Frantz not disabled. (Tr. 30.)
evaluating whether Mr. Frantz was disabled, the ALJ undertook
the five-step sequential evaluation for determining
disability. (Tr. 23-24.) At step one, the ALJ found
that Mr. Frantz had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 1, 2013, the alleged onset
date. (Tr. 25.) At step two, the ALJ determined
that Mr. Frantz suffered from two medically determinable
impairments: schizoaffective disorder and attention deficit
hyperactive disorder (“ADHD”). However, he
determined that these impairments were not severe, as they
did not significantly limit Mr. Frantz's “ability
to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive
months; therefore, the claimant does not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments.” (Tr. 24.)
Having found Mr. Frantz not disabled at step two, the ALJ did
not continue his analysis through the remainder of the
Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-3.)
Mr. Frantz filed the complaint underlying this action on
November 22, 2016 seeking this Court's review of the
ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1.) The matter is now
fully briefed. (Docs. 10, 11, 12.)
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).
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).
The ALJ Did Not Err in Denying Mr. Frantz's Request for
Benefits at Step Two.
Ninth Circuit does not defer to the Secretary's
application of the severity regulations at step two, but
imposes a more narrow construction upon them. Yuckert v.
Bowen, 841 F.2d 303, 306 (9th Cir. 1988) (“Despite
the deference usually accorded to the Secretary's
application of regulations, numerous appellate courts have
imposed a narrow construction upon the severity regulation
applied here.”). In this circuit, “the step-two
inquiry is a de minimis screening device to dispose of
groundless claims.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d
1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). Thus “[a]n ALJ may find
that a claimant lacks a medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments only when his conclusion is
‘clearly established by medical evidence.'”
Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 2009)
(quoting S.S.R. 85-28). Therefore, in this circuit at least,
the correct application of the substantial evidence
requirement requires the ALJ to demonstrate how the medical
evidence “clearly establishes” that the claimant
had at most only “a slight abnormality that has no more
than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to
work.” Webb, 433 F.3d at 687.
The Medical Evidence Supported a Finding Mr. Frantz's