United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge.
Marcus Cornell Bynum seeks review under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security which denied his disability insurance benefits under
sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act. For reasons set forth below, the Court will
deny Plaintiff's challenge to the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
is a 42 year-old man with a high school education. A.R. 47,
158. Plaintiff previously worked as a dairy operator, a
hazardous materials technician, a landscape laborer, and a
truck driver. A.R. 70. Plaintiff applied for disability
benefits on November 18, 2013, alleging disability beginning
May 2, 2013. A.R. 155-61. On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff appeared
and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A.R. 38-75. A
vocational expert also testified. Id. On August 1,
2016, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding
Plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act from May 2, 2013, through August 11, 2014. A.R.
15-32. But the ALJ found Plaintiff's disability ceased as
of August 11, 2014, based on medical improvement.
Id. The ALJ's decision became the
Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 3,
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
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 Sequential 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). At the first step, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so,
the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
Id. 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.
Id. 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.
Id. 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. Id. If not, the ALJ
proceeds to the fifth and final step, where he 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. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2018, and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 2, 2013. A.R. 22. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments
from May 2, 2013 through August 11, 2014: cervical disc
protrusion and syrinx, lumbar degenerative disc disease,
radiculopathy status post right L4 hemilaminotomy, and
partial facetectomy. 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. Id. At step four, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work, but due
to pain associated with his impairments, Plaintiff would be
off-task twenty percent of the workday. A.R. 23. At step
five, the ALJ found, considering Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, that no jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
could have performed from May 2, 2013 through August 11,
2014. A.R. 27.
Continuation of Disability.
underwent back surgery in April 2014. A.R. 25. The ALJ found
that evidence in the record showed significant improvement in
Plaintiff's condition after the surgery.
ALJ finds a claimant disabled, the ALJ follows an eight-step
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a
claimant's disability continues through the date of the
decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1)-(8).
The ALJ determines whether: (1) the claimant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity, (2) the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments which meets or
medically equals the severity of a listed impairment, (3)
medical improvement has occurred, (4) medical improvement is
related to ability to work, (5) an exception to medical
improvement applies, and whether (6) all the claimant's
current combined impairments are severe. Then the ALJ
assesses (7) the claimant's RFC based on current
impairments and determines whether he can perform past
relevant work, and (8) whether the claimant can perform other
work that is suitable for his RFC, age, education, and work
followed this sequential process and found, at step one, that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since he became disabled on May 2, 2013. A.R. 22. At steps
two and six, the ALJ found Plaintiff had no new impairments
since August 12, 2014, the date his disability ended, and
that his severe impairments were the same. A.R. 28. At step
three, the ALJ found medical improvement occurred as of
August 12, 2014. A.R. 28. At step four, the ALJ found the
medical improvement was related to ability to work and that
Plaintiff's RFC had increased. A.R. 29. Under steps seven
and eight, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not
perform past relevant work (A.R. 31), but that he could
perform the full range of sedentary work and, beginning
August 12, 2014, jobs existed in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform (A.R. 32).
argues that the ALJ's decision is defective for two
reasons: (1) the ALJ erred in giving little to partial weight
to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr.
Landsman; and (2) the ALJ rejected Plaintiff's ...