United States District Court, D. Arizona
Jessie M. Aponte, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
G. CAMPBELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jessie M. Aponte seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,
which denied him disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under §§ 216(i) and
223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because Plaintiff has not
shown that the administrative law judge's
(“ALJ”) decision is unsupported by substantial
evidence or based on reversible legal error, the Court will
is a 40 year old male who previously worked as a janitor,
cashier, and laborer at a concrete plant. A.R. 31, 389.
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on June 11, 2012, alleging
disability beginning on March 15, 2012. A.R. 378-95. On
November 19, 2015, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before
the ALJ. A.R. 43-84. A vocational expert also testified.
Id. On January 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. A.R. 19-32. This became the
Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. A.R. 1-3.
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 determination only if it 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. 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 determination. Id.
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 is
capable of other work suitable for his RFC, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2016, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 15, 2012. A.R. 21. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder NOS, panic
disorder with agoraphobia, shoulder/hand arthralgia, and
chronic pain syndrome. Id. The ALJ acknowledged that
the record contained evidence of acute facial fractures,
sciatica, rhinitis, skin rash, enlarged thyroid, headaches,
lumbar spondylosis, and abdominal pain NOS, but found that
these are not severe impairments. A.R. 21-22. At step three,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
a listed impairment. A.R. 22-23. At step four, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform medium work with some
additional limitations, and that Plaintiff is able to perform
his past relevant work as a janitor. A.R. 24-32.
argues that the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting his treating
psychiatrist's opinion, (2) affording great weight to a
consulting examiner's opinion but failing to include his
opined limitations in the RFC analysis, and (3) finding
moderate concentration limitations at step two but defining
his RFC to include an ability to carry out simple
instructions and tasks. Doc. 9 at 5-20.
Weighing of Medical Source Evidence.
Commissioner is responsible for determining whether a
claimant meets the statutory definition of disability, and
need not credit a physician's conclusion that the
claimant is “disabled” or “unable to
work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1). But the
Commissioner generally must defer to a physician's
medical opinion, such as statements concerning the nature or
severity of the claimant's ...