United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE G. MURRAY SNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is claimant Mark Anthony Hazelton's
appeal of the Social Security Administration's (SSA)
decision to deny disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 10).
For the following reasons, the Court affirms the denial of
Hazelton filed a claim for disability benefits with the
Social Security Administration on September 26, 2012,
alleging that he suffers from degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine and various other medical conditions. (Tr.
30). Mr. Hazelton's claim was denied, and he eventually
appeared before Administrative Law Judge Earl Cates on June
7, 2016. (Tr. 13). In evaluating whether Mr. Hazelton was
disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential
evaluation for determining disability. (Tr. 14-16).
one, the ALJ found that Mr. Hazelton had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(Tr. 16). At step two, the ALJ determined that Mr. Hazelton
suffers from degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
with low back pain. (Tr. 16-17). At step three, the ALJ
decided that Mr. Hazelton's impairments did not meet or
equal the criteria of a listed impairment in the regulations.
(Tr. 17). At step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Hazelton's
residual functional capacity and found that he could perform
medium work with various exceptions, such as being able to
sit, stand, or walk for four hours at one time and up to six
hours in an eight hour work day. (Tr. 17- 20). As part of
this analysis, the ALJ considered the opinion testimony of
treating physician Dr. Mark Whitaker, examining physician
Robert Gordon, and various other consultative examining
physicians and reviewing physicians. (Tr. 19-20). The ALJ
then determined that Mr. Hazelton is capable of performing
his past relevant work as a protective signal installer,
change person for slot machines, and security consultant.
(Tr. 20-21). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Hazelton does not qualify for disability benefits. (Tr. 21).
Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Mr.
Hazelton's request for review. (Tr. 1-3). He filed this
complaint on August 7, 2017 to challenge the denial of
benefits. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised
by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision.
See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir.
2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability
benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by
substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ is
responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining
credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). “When
the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one
rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's
conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so
because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must
resolve conflicts in evidence, and if the evidence can
support either outcome, the court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ.” Matney v.
Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations
omitted). A reviewing court may draw specific and legitimate
inferences from an ALJ's decision, but it cannot
speculate on the ALJ's reasoning or make “post hoc
rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator
may have been thinking.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 554 F.3d 1219, 1225 (9th Cir. 2009).
Hazelton argues that the ALJ failed to support his finding of
nondisability with substantial evidence; gave
less-than-deserved weight to treating physician Dr. Mark
Whitaker; gave more-than-deserved weight to examining
physician Dr. Robert Gordon; and failed to appropriately
consider Mr. Hazelton's daily activities.
Whether the ALJ supported his decision with substantial
must support a denial of disability benefits with substantial
evidence. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th
Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (quotation
omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence
which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. (quotation omitted). Therefore, courts cannot
affirm an ALJ's decision “simply by isolating a
specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Sousa v.
Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998). Although
an ALJ “need not discuss all evidence presented,
” the ALJ may not ignore substantial, contradictory
evidence and must “explain why significant probative
evidence has been rejected.” Carter v. Colvin,
651 Fed.Appx. 721, 723 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Vincent
ex rel. Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th
Cir. 1984)); see also Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953,
957 (9th Cir. 1993) (“our review of the record as a
whole indicates that the ALJ ignored substantial evidence on
the overall record indicating that [claimant] was disabled
within the meaning of the Act”);
objective medical evidence, the record includes x-rays of the
lumbar spine taken in December 2012 showing “marked
degenerative disc disease, ” (Tr. 373), and a January
2014 MRI showing “severe disc space narrowing”
and “severe left neuroforaminal stenosis.” (Tr.
398). The ALJ briefly mentioned these tests and then
concluded without discussion that these two reports supported
a medium exertional limitation with frequent climbing and
crawling. (Tr. 18). However, neither Dr. Gordon nor Dr.
Boyack had these reports when examining Mr. Hazelton, (Tr.
377, 411, 419), and the medical interpretations of those two
reports are sparse. Dr. Schultz stated that the MRI showed
“considerable” change at ¶ 4-S1 and L5-S1
and served as a basis for Mr. Hazelton's pain complaints.
(Tr. 409). Dr. ...