United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell, United States District Judge.
Phillip Simser seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,
which denied him child's disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income under sections 202(d),
223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because
the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”)
opinion contains reversible error and each of the
credit-as-true requirements is met, the Court will remand for
an award of benefits.
is a 40 year old male who has never worked. A.R. 49, 182. On
December 18, 2013, Plaintiff applied for supplemental
security income, alleging disability beginning December 12,
2013. A.R. 182-90. On January 31, 2014, Plaintiff applied for
child's disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning October 19, 1993. A.R. 193-96. On March
24, 2016, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing
before an ALJ. A.R. 38-55. A vocational expert also
testified. Id. On April 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. A.R. 20-30. This became the
Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council
denied review on July 19, 2017. A.R. 1-5.
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 at step five 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 had not reached the age of
22 as of December 15, 1995, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since that date. A.R.
At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: fibromyalgia, cervical spondylosis,
osteoporosis, and adjustment disorder with depressed and
anxious mood. A.R. 22. The ALJ acknowledged that the record
contained evidence of hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, and
obesity, but found that these were not severe impairments.
A.R. 23. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment. A.R. 23-25. At
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light, unskilled work, and Plaintiff had no past
relevant work. A.R. 25-29. At step five, the ALJ concluded
that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, he was able to perform occupations like
housekeeping cleaner, fast food worker, and cashier. A.R.
argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting his symptom testimony
and the opinions of his primary care physician, Dr. Jay Long,
and rheumatologist, Dr. Ravi Bhalla. Doc. 14. Plaintiff's
arguments focus on the ALJ's rejection of his physical
limitations. Id. at 4 n.5.
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 alleged symptoms. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d
995, 1014 (9th Cir. 2014). The claimant is not required to
show that his impairment could reasonably be expected to
cause the severity of the symptoms he 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