United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge
Todd Wills applied for disability insurance benefits and for
a period of disability, alleging disability beginning May 11,
2011. (A.R. 14.) The claim was denied initially on January 9,
2014, and upon reconsideration on April 24, 2014.
(Id.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing.
(Id.) On October 16, 2015, Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified at a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 39-81.) At
the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged disability onset
date to May 1, 2012. (Id. at 14.)
February 18, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act, which became the Commissioner's final
decision when the Appeals Council denied review.
(Id. at 1-3.) On September 1, 2017, Plaintiff sought
review by this Court. (Doc. 1.) After receipt of the
administrative record (Doc. 11), the parties fully briefed
the issues for review (Docs. 13-14). For reasons stated
below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
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). At the first step, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial
gainful activity. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the
claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. 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. 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. 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. If
not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, where she
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. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements on December 31, 2015, and did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the period from May 1,
2012 through December 31, 2015. (A.R. 17.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: history of ulcerative colitis; degenerative disc
disease of the cervical spine; cervical spondylosis; history
of bilateral inguinal hernias; and status-post laparoscopic
bilateral inguinal hernia repair. (Id.) At step
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's listed
impairments did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the
listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404. (Id. at 20.) At step four, the ALJ found
has the [RFC] to perform a range of light work . . . .
Specifically, the claimant can lift and carry 25 pounds
occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for
six hours; sit for six hours; and requires ready access to a
restroom, which is defined as within a five-minute walk of
(Id. at 20.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff is able to perform his past relevant work as an
automobile tester and industrial arts teacher. (Id.
at 25.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled.
(Id. at 26.)
Standard of Review
not the district court's role to review the ALJ's
decision de novo or otherwise determine whether the claimant
is disabled. Rather, the court is limited to reviewing the
ALJ's decision to determine whether it “contains
legal error or is not supported by substantial
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance, and “such
relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
“Where evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be
upheld.” Id. The court, however, “must
consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting
evidence.'” Id. Nor may the court
“affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not
argues that the ALJ erred at step two by finding
Plaintiff's cognitive and depressive disorders
non-severe. Plaintiff also challenges whether the ALJ's
RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly
weighed treating physician opinions and rejected his symptom
The ALJ Did Not Err at Step Two
step two inquiry is a de minimis screening device to dispose
of groundless claims. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 153-54 (1987). Its purpose “is to do no more than
allow the [Commissioner] to deny benefits summarily to those
applicants with impairments of a minimal nature which could
never prevent a person from working.” Titles II &
XVI: Med. Impairments That Are Not Severe, SSR 85-28 (S.S.A.
1985) (internal quotation omitted). Agency regulations
provide that “[a]n impairment or combination of
impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit
a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a).
Basic work activities are “the abilities and aptitudes
necessary to do most jobs, ” including: (1) physical
functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, and
carrying; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking;
(3) understanding, ...