United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. CAMPBELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
George Glenn seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
which denied his disability insurance benefits under
§§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) is supported by substantial evidence and
is not based on reversible legal error, the
Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
is a 59 year-old male who previously worked as a warehouse
supervisor. A.R. 143, 167. On April 23, 2013, Plaintiff
applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning May 12, 2012. A.R. 143-44. On April 15,
2015, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a
hearing before the ALJ. A.R. 31-55. A vocational expert also
testified. A.R. 49-55. On June 11, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. A.R. 15-25. This became the
Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. A.R. 1.
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). 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). 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. (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). As a general rule, “[w]here the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations
omitted). Harmless error principles apply in the Social
Security context. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1115 (9th Cir. 2012). An error is harmless if there remains
substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and
the error does not affect the ultimate nondisability
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities.
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995). In reviewing the ALJ's reasoning, the Court is
“not deprived of [its] faculties for drawing specific
and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion.”
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir.
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process.
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, and the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). To establish disability, the
claimant must show that (1) he is not currently working, (2)
he has a severe impairment, and (3) this impairment meets or
equals a listed impairment or (4) his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) prevents his performance of any
past relevant work. If the claimant meets his burden through
step three, the Commissioner must find him disabled. If the
inquiry proceeds to step four and the claimant shows that he
is incapable of performing past relevant work, the
Commissioner must show in the fifth step that the claimant
nonetheless is capable of other work suitable for his RFC,
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2017, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 12, 2012. A.R. 17. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
lumbar degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy status
post surgery, degenerative disc disease of the thoracic
spine, status post cervical discectomy, knee osteoarthritis,
diabetes, and obesity. A.R. 17. Although the ALJ acknowledged
that the record contains evidence of hypertension and
gastritis, she found that these conditions are not severe
impairments. A.R. 18. 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 Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. A.R.
18. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to
perform light work, except that Plaintiff cannot operate foot
controls with his left foot. A.R. 18. The ALJ then concluded
that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, he is able to perform past relevant work
as a warehouse supervisor. A.R. 24-25.
argues that the ALJ's decision is based on legal error.
Doc. 10 at 1. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ (1)
improperly discredited his symptom testimony, (2) based her
opinion on an incomplete and inaccurate review of the
evidence, and (3) improperly discredited the medical opinions
of two treating physicians. Id. For reasons stated
below, the Court finds no reversible error.
evaluating a claimant's symptom testimony, the ALJ must
engage in a two-step analysis. First, the ALJ must determine
whether the claimant presented objective medical evidence of
an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce
the symptoms alleged. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d
995, 1014 (9th Cir. 2014). The claimant is not required to
show that her impairment could reasonably be expected to
cause the severity of the symptoms she has alleged, only that
it could reasonably have caused some degree of the symptoms.
Id. Second, if there is no evidence of malingering,
the ALJ may reject the claimant's symptom testimony only
by giving specific, clear, and convincing reasons.
Id. at 1015. “This is not an easy requirement
to meet: ‘The clear and convincing standard is the most
demanding required in Social Security cases.'”
Id. (quoting Moore v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 278 F.3d 920, 924 (9th Cir.
The ALJ summarized Plaintiff's symptom testimony in her
At his hearing, the claimant testified that he is unable to
walk or sit for extended periods due to bilateral knee pain,
which is worse on the left, and back pain. The claimant
stated that he only drives short distances. Moreover, the
claimant testified that he has to lie down 2 to 3 times a day
to stretch. He stated that he uses a recliner 2 to 3 times a
day to raise his feet up for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. The
claimant also reported he can lift 25 to 30 pounds but can
only carry up to 15 pounds. Additionally, the claimant said
that he cannot tie his shoes on his own and that his wife
needs to put on his socks and shoes. In a function report,
the claimant stated that he can only walk 100 yards at a time
before he needs to rest.
A.R. 19 (internal citation omitted).
determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms, but that his statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms were not
entirely credible. A.R. 19. Because the ALJ made no finding
of malingering, she could discredit the symptom testimony
only with clear and convincing reasons. Garrison,
759 F.3d at 1015.
relies on Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487 (9th
Cir. 2015), to challenge this credibility determination. In
Brown-Hunter, the Ninth Circuit held that an ALJ
commits legal error by making a general credibility finding
supported only by a recitation of medical evidence.
Id. at 489, 494. But that aspect of the Ninth
Circuit's holding is distinguishable. Although the
ALJ's opinion could have been organized more clearly to
highlight its specific reasons, they are identified in the
decision: (1) Plaintiff's relatively normal examination
results, (2) Plaintiff's ...