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Shaffer v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 30, 2018

Scott Robert Shaffer, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income on February 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2013. (A.R. 10.) The claim was denied initially on June 26, 2013, and upon reconsideration on November 13, 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 37-88.) During the hearing, Plaintiff amended his disability onset date to February 22, 2013. (Id. at 10.)

         On March 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, which became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review. (Id. at 1-4, 10-20.) On November 22, 2016, Plaintiff sought review by this Court. (Doc. 1.) After receipt of the administrative record (Doc. 17), the parties fully briefed the issues for review (Docs. 18-20). 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 22, 2013. (A.R. 12.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, diabetes mellitus, obesity, major depressive disorder and learning disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's listed impairments do not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. (Id. at 13.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:

has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except he can climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl frequently, climb ladders occasionally and never climb ropes and scaffolds, must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, and can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

(Id. at 14.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 18.) At step five, however, after considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 19.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Id. at 19-20.)

         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

         On appeal, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet Listing 12.05C. Plaintiff also challenges whether the ALJ's RFC and step five determinations are supported by substantial evidence. Having reviewed the record and the parties' briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err.

         I. The ALJ Did Not Error at Step Three

         At step three, the ALJ considers whether Plaintiff's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If Plaintiff's impairments ...


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