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Maron v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 26, 2019

Joshua Maron, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable Steven P. Logan, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Joshua Maron seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) finding certain impairments were not severe; (2) failing to consider Plaintiff’s obesity in determining his residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3) rejecting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints (Doc. 15 at 6-7).

         A person is considered “disabled” for the purpose of receiving social security benefits if he or she is unable 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Administration’s decision to deny benefits should be upheld unless it is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Ryan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). “It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ’s determination. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. IMPAIRMENT SEVERITY

         1. PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENTS

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred in finding his tinnitus, arthopathies, hernia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypertension, fatigue, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus were not severe (Doc. 15 at 7). At step two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ considers the medical severity of the claimant’s impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(ii). This step is essentially “a de minimis screening device [used] to dispose of groundless claims.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). “An impairment or combination of impairments can be found ‘not severe’ only if the evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has ‘no more than a minimal effect on an individual’s ability to work.’” Id.

         In arguing that the ALJ erred in finding his tinnitus, arthopathies, hernia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypertension, fatigue, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus were not severe, Plaintiff simply counts the number of times those diagnoses were listed in the record (Doc. 15 at 2-3; Doc. 19 at 2-3). Frequency, however, does not equate to severity of symptoms, or provide the ALJ with evidence establishing more than “a slight abnormality that has ‘no more than a minimal effect on an individual’s ability to work.’” Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1290. Accordingly, the Court finds the ALJ did not err in finding those impairments to be not severe. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521.

         2. MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS

         Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ also erred at step three of the sequential evaluation process in finding Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets the severity of any listing in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Doc. 15 at 8). See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (stating that if the criteria of a listing are met, “the claimant is automatically presumed disabled”). An impairment is satisfied by a showing of an extreme limitation in one area of mental functioning, or a marked limitation in two areas of mental functioning. Plaintiff specifically argues the ALJ erred in finding he did not have marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning and maintaining concentration (Doc. 15 at 8). A “marked” limitation falls between moderate and extreme on a five-point scale (no limitation, mild limitation, moderate limitation, marked limitation, or extreme limitation).

         Although there is documentation of anxiety and anger issues, the record contains evidence that Plaintiff’s social functioning was not a marked limitation. For example, in a September 2014 behavioral health and medical history questionnaire, Plaintiff stated “[he] can sometimes be outgoing and sometimes shy.” (AR 686). In addition, he stated that “in a social sense [he is] shy at first until [he] get[s] to know the person but performing in front of people [he is] fine. [He] love[s] being around people, but [he doesn’t] like crowds of people.” (AR 686). There is also evidence that Plaintiff acted and participated in a church play (AR 171, 769), attended and was involved with his church (AR 145, 665, 770), and occasionally participated in a singles group (AR 143, 170, 665). Accordingly, there is evidence in the record to support the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s limitation in social functioning was a moderate limitation.

         With respect to concentration, persistence, or pace, the ALJ found that despite Plaintiff’s complaints of stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, the record contained sufficient evidence to show he could perform simple tasks requiring sustained concentration (AR 56). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff’s ability to concentrate was demonstrated by his enjoyment in watching television and reading, (AR 715, 802), and although a psychological evaluation further noted he could be tangential at times, Plaintiff was able to follow simple instructions (AR 667; see also AR 154; AR 175 (a disability determination explanation finding Plaintiff’s difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace to be “moderate”). The Court thus finds the ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff’s concentration, persistence, or pace to be a moderate limitation.

         B. ...


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