United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiff Saul Gonzales'
(“Plaintiff”) appeal from the Social Security
Commissioner's (the “Commissioner”) denial of
his application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.,
1381 et. seq. (Doc. 1 at 1-3). This matter has been
fully briefed by the parties. The Court now rules on
parties are familiar with the background information in this
case, and it is summarized in the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) decision. (See Doc
11-3 at 27- 39). Accordingly, the Court will reference the
background only as necessary to the analysis below.
ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits may be
overturned “only when the ALJ's findings are based
on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in
the record.” Benton ex rel. Benton v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003).
“‘Substantial evidence' means more than a
mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Robbins v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing
Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir.
inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields
such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the
conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v.
Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citations
omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible of more than
one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion
which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ
is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the
evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453
(citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This
is because “[t]he trier of fact and not the reviewing
court must resolve conflicts in the 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); see Benton, 331 F.3d at 1035 (“If the
evidence can support either outcome, the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld.”).
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must
affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by
isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.”
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)
(internal quotations and citations omitted).
the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and
making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not
disabled. Rather, it is a “fundamental rule of
administrative law” that a reviewing court, in dealing
with a judgement which an administrative agency alone is
authorized to make, may only make its decision based upon
evidence discussed by the agency. Sec. & Exch.
Comm'n v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947).
Thus, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons
asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon in support
of those reasons. See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d
871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).
when challenging an ALJ's decision, “issues which
are not specifically and distinctly argued and raised in a
party's opening brief are waived.” Arpin v.
Santa Clara Valley Trans. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 919 (9th
Cir. 2001) (citing Barnett v. U.S. Air, Inc., 228
F.3d 1105, 1110 n. 1 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc), vacated
and remanded on other grounds, 535 U.S. 391 (2002));
see also Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554
F.3d 1219, 1226 n. 7 (9th Cir. 2009) (applying the principle
to Social Security appeals). Accordingly, the Court
“will not manufacture arguments for an
appellant.” Arpin, 261 F.3d at 919 (citation
Definition of a Disability
claimant can qualify for Social Security disability benefits
only if he can show that, among other things, he is disabled.
42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). A disability is defined as an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” Id. §
423(d)(1)(A). A person is disabled only if his
“physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.”
Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); see also Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d
715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). A finding of “not
disabled” at any step in the sequential process will
end the inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps,