United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. Willett, United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Russell Lee Frigon's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Social Security
Administration's (“Social Security”) denial
of his application for disability insurance benefits. The
Court has jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff's appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), the Court has the power to enter, based upon the
pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, with or without remanding the case for a
rehearing. Both parties have consented to the exercise of
U.S. Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 7).
reviewing the Administrative Record (“A.R.”) and
the parties' briefing (Docs. 10, 14, 15), the Court finds
that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of
harmful legal error. The decision is therefore affirmed.
who was born in 1963, has experience working as a hair
stylist and retail store manager. (A.R. 67, 93).
Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits
alleged that on May 15, 2011, he became unable to work due to
human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), back
injury/back pain, arthritis, and depression. (A.R. 93).
Social Security denied the application. (A.R. 127-30). In
November 2012, upon Plaintiff's request for
reconsideration, Social Security affirmed the denial of
benefits. (A.R. 132-34). Plaintiff sought further review by
an ALJ, who conducted a hearing in October 2013. (A.R.
October 31, 2013 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
(A.R. 18-35). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (A.R. 1-6). On February 12, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for
the District of Arizona seeking judicial review and reversal
of the ALJ's decision. No. CV-15-00269-PHX-DGC, Doc. 1.
Plaintiff argued that the ALJ (i) improperly rejected the
medical opinions of Drs. Thanes Vanig, Drew Kovach, and Brent
Geary and (ii) erroneously failed to consider Reiter's
Syndrome as a severe impairment. (A.R. 1144-45). The assigned
District Judge ruled that because the ALJ's decision
“is generally supported by substantial evidence and not
based on legal error, the decision will be generally
affirmed.” (A.R. 1142). The District Judge remanded the
matter for further proceedings to address Dr. Vanig's
opinion concerning Plaintiff's alleged fatigue. (A.R.
remand, the matter was assigned to a different ALJ, who held
a second administrative hearing in March 2016. (A.R.
1070-1106). In an October 2016 decision, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant
work. (A.R. 1051-63). The Appeals Council denied review, and
Plaintiff filed the instant action.
Disability Analysis: Five-Step Evaluation
Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for
disability insurance benefits to those who have contributed
to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical
or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). To be
eligible for benefits based on an alleged disability, the
claimant must show that he or she suffers from a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that prohibits him
or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The claimant must also show that
the impairment is expected to cause death or last for a
continuous period of at least 12 months. Id.
decide if a claimant is entitled to Social Security benefits,
an ALJ conducts an analysis consisting of five questions,
which are considered in sequential steps. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a). The claimant has the burden of proof regarding
the first four steps:
Step One: Is the claimant engaged
in “substantial gainful activity”? If so, the
analysis ends and disability benefits are denied. Otherwise,
the ALJ proceeds to step two.
Step Two: Does the claimant have a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments? A
severe impairment is one which significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant
does not have a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, disability benefits are denied at this step.
Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step three.
Step Three: Is the impairment
equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the
Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed
impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be
disabled. If the impairment is not one that is presumed to be
disabling, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step of the
Step Four: Does the impairment
prevent the claimant from performing work which the claimant
performed in the past? If not, the claimant is “not
disabled” and disability benefits are denied without
continuing the analysis. 20 C.F.R. § ...