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Mezquita v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 26, 2017

Zachary J. Mezquita, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          NEIL V. WAKE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Zachary J. Mezquita seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied him disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in January 31, 1975. He has a high school education. From 1997 to 1999, he worked as a rig hand servicing oil wells. In 1998, he began a three-year apprenticeship in glazing, which he was able to complete, and worked on and off as a glazer from 1997 to 2011.

         In November 2000, Plaintiff was involved in an auto accident, resulting in fractures of his left femur, cervical spine, shoulder, finger, thumb, and multiple ribs. He underwent multiple surgeries, including putting a rod, pin, and nail into the left femur, which was eventually removed. Plaintiff alleges numerous impairments, including back injury, neck injury with a C1 fracture, left knee injury, depression, anxiety, impaired cognitive skills, memory loss, finger problems due to injuries, and being quick to anger.

         On December 13 and 18, 2012, Plaintiff applied for, respectively, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning November 22, 2000. The alleged onset date was amended to March 1, 2011. On September 26, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On November 19, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On June 6, 2016, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district 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); Indep. Towers of Washington v. Washington, 350 F.3d 925, 929 (9th Cir. 2003). A 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). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a “specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. Generally, when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, courts must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “Overall, the standard of review is highly deferential.” Rounds v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2015).

         III. FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

         At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ considers whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity and determines whether the claimant is still capable of performing past relevant work. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, where he determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2011, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: cervical spine fracture status post-treatment, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, fractured left femur status post-surgery and rod placement, scapular fracture of the shoulder status post-treatment, and a hip dislocation status post-surgery on the left hip. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can never climb ladders, ropes, and/or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and/or stairs, crouch, kneel, and crawl; and frequently reach overhead with the left upper extremity. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to hazard[ou]s machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant can ...

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