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Gibbs v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 29, 2018

Justin Travis Gibbs, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge

         Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits in October 2, 2012, alleging disability beginning November 20, 2010. (A.R. 15.) The claim was denied initially on October 26, 2012, and upon reconsideration on September 18, 2013. (Id.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing. (Id.) On December 2, 2014, Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 34-67.)

         On September 4, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and this became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review. (Id. at 1-4, 15-27.) On February 10, 2017, Plaintiff sought review by this Court. (Doc. 1.) After receipt of the administrative record (Doc. 7), the parties fully briefed the issues for review (Docs. 10, 16). For reasons stated below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         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). At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. 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. 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. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) 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. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, where she determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on June 30, 2014, and did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of November 20, 2010 through his date last insured of June 30, 2014. (A.R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: spondylosis; history of prostatitis; history of gastritis; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. (Id. at 20.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:

has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except he was able to frequently climb ramps and stairs and never climb[] ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; [he] could frequently balance and stoop; [he could] occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl; and [he] should have avoided concentrated exposure to extreme cold. [Plaintiff] should not have been exposed to hazards such as moving machinery or unprotected heights and not have been required to drive as a work responsibility.

         (Id. at 20.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 24.) At step five, however, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed. (Id. at 25.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Id. at 26.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         It is not the district court's role to review the ALJ's decision de novo or otherwise determine whether the claimant is disabled. Rather, the court is limited to reviewing the ALJ's decision to determine whether it “contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, and “such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. “Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Id. The court, however, “must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Id. Nor may the court “affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal. First, he argues that the ALJ erred by relying on medical experts that are not qualified to review his record. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in not concluding that side effects to medications caused him additional limitations. Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step five. (Doc. 10.) The Court addresses each in turn.

         I. ALJ Did Not Err Relying On State Agency Consultants

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in relying on State agency medical consultants because they were not specialists in urology. The Court finds this unpersuasive for two reasons. First, Plaintiff is mistaken factually, as State agency consultant Dr. Stephen M. Dickstein practices as a urologist. (Doc. 16 at 21.) Second, Dr. Dickstein opined that Plaintiff was not disabled because his physical impairments were non-severe. (A.R. 23.) The ALJ gave Dr. Dickstein's opinion little weight, finding that the medical ...


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