United States District Court, D. Arizona
honorable Susan M. Brnovich, United States District Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Arthur James Beighley,
Jr.'s appeal of the Social Security Administration's
decision to deny his application for benefits under the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1)
with this Court seeking judicial review of that denial
pursuant to 42. U.S.C. § 405(g), and the Court now
addresses Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. 12), Defendant
Commissioner of Social Security Administration's
Opposition (Doc. 13), and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. 14).
The Court has reviewed the briefs and Administrative Record
(Doc. 11, “AR”) and now AFFIRMS
the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision (AR 29-36).
parties are familiar with the background information in this
case, and it is summarized in the ALJ's decision. (AR
29). Accordingly, the Court will reference the background
only as necessary to the analysis below.
determining whether to reverse an ALJ's decision, the
district court reviews only those issues raised by the party
challenging the decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236
F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The district 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, but less than a preponderance; it is
relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Id. If the
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the court should uphold the ALJ's
findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn
from the record. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1111 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Andrews v. Shalala,
53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (noting that the ALJ is
responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities). But the
Court is tasked with considering “the entire record as
a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn, 495 F.3d
at 630 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“Finally, [courts] may not reverse an ALJ's
decision on account of an error that is harmless.”
Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111. An error is harmless if
there remains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's
decision and the error does not affect the ultimate
non-disability determination. Id. at 1115. The
“burden of showing that an error is harmful normally
falls upon the party attacking the agency's
determination.” Id. at 1111 (quoting
Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009)).
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, but 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 presently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) he has a
“severe” medically determinable physical or
mental impairment; and (3) his impairment or combination of
impairments meets or medically equals a listed impairment. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). If the claimant meets his burden
through step three, the Commissioner must find him disabled.
Id. If the claimant does not meet his burden at step
three, the ALJ moves to step four which is whether claimant
can show that (4) his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) prevents his performance of any past
relevant work. Id. 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 (5) the claimant is capable of other work
suitable for his RFC, age, education, and work experience.
at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 28, 2013. (AR 31).
At step two, the ALJ found chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (“COPD”) to be a severe impairment. (AR
31). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (AR
32). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
“light” work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b), except the Plaintiff is limited to (1) lifting
and/or carrying a maximum of 20 pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently; (2) standing and/or walking six hours out
of eight; (3) sitting six hours; (4) occasionally climbing
stairs and/or ramps, but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
(5) occasionally stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling;
and the Plaintiff (6) should avoid concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and unprotected heights. (AR 32).
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform past
relevant work as a driver. (AR 35-36). The ALJ therefore did
not proceed to step five.
raises only one argument for the Court's
consideration-whether the RFC is supported by substantial
evidence because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
opinion evidence, specifically the February 23, 2015 residual
functional capacity questionnaire (the
“Questionnaire”). (Doc. 12 at 1, 8) (AR 432-435).
The argument is based primarily on Plaintiff's assertion
that the ALJ erroneously attributed the Questionnaire as
being issued by Dr. Cardone instead of Dr. Aslam. (Doc. 12 at
Ninth Circuit distinguishes between the opinions of treating
physicians, examining physicians, and non-examining
physicians. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). Generally, an ALJ should give the greatest
weight to a treating physician's opinion and more weight
to the opinion of an examining physician than a non-examining
physician. See Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1040-41; see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6) (listing
factors to be considered when evaluating opinion evidence,
including length of examining or treating relationship,
frequency of examination, and consistency with the record).
If it is not contradicted by another doctor's opinion,
the opinion of a treating or examining physician can be
rejected only for “clear and convincing” reasons.
Lester, 81 F.3d at 830 (citing Embrey v.
Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)). Under this
standard, the ALJ may reject a treating or examining
physician's opinion if it is “conclusory, brief,
and unsupported by the record as a whole or by objective
medical findings, ” Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations
omitted), or if there are significant discrepancies between
the physician's opinion and claimant's clinical
records. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216
(9th Cir. 2005).
treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted
by another doctor, it can be rejected only for
“specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Lester,
81 F.3d at 830-31. To satisfy this requirement, the ALJ must
set out “a detailed and thorough summary of the facts
and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings.” Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation
omitted). Under either standard, “[t]he ALJ must do
more than state conclusions. He must set forth his own
interpretations and explain why they, rather than the
doctors', are correct.” Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation
Opinion Evidence in the Record
issued the RFC assessment considering the following opinion
evidence: (1) opinion of Efren Cano, D.O., who administered a
consultative exam, and to which the ALJ gave “partial
weight”; (2) the opinion of Richard Cardone, M.D.,
treating physician, to which the ALJ gave “no
weight”; and (3) the state agency medical consultants,
to which the ALJ gave “little weight.” (AR
34-35). The ALJ further stated that the ...