United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell, Senior United States District Judge
Jonathan Garcia 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 under sections
216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because the
administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) opinion
contains reversible error, the Court will remand for further
is a 55 year old male who previously worked as an account
manager, financial counselor, food preparer, lab technician,
material handler, singer, and polisher. A.R. 129, 176.
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on
September 20, 2013, alleging disability beginning on February
19, 2013. A.R. 129-31. On May 3, 2016, Plaintiff appeared and
testified at a hearing before an ALJ. A.R. 30-41. On August
25, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. A.R.
13-23. This became the Commissioner's final decision when
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
on November 14, 2017. A.R. 1-3.
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 met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30,
2018, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 19, 2013. A.R. 15. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus II, peripheral neuropathy, ischemic heart disease,
and bilateral carpal tunnel. Id. The ALJ also noted
the following medically determinable but non-severe
impairments: essential hypertension, obesity, depression, and
anxiety. A.R. 16-17. 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. 17. At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with some
additional limitations, and Plaintiff was unable to perform
his past relevant work. A.R. 17-21. At step five, the ALJ
concluded that, considering Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, he could perform a significant
numbers of jobs in the national economy. A.R. 22.
argues that the ALJ erred by discrediting his symptom
testimony and the opinion of his treating orthopedist, Dr.
Humberto Galleno. Doc. 11.
Galleno saw Plaintiff multiple times in 2013 to evaluate and
treat pain in his right hand and wrist. A.R. 409-36; 548-75.
In May 2013, Dr. Galleno diagnosed Plaintiff with bilateral
carpal tunnel syndrome that was greater on the right side and
limited Plaintiff to lifting no more than five pounds and no
repetitive grasping, gripping, or torsional movements of his
right hand or wrist. A.R. 413. In September 2013, Dr. Galleno
issued a final report opining that Plaintiff had
“achieved maximal medical improvement” and was