United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. TEILBORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff Jason Chisolm's
(“Claimant”) appeal from the denial of his
application for social security disability benefits. The
matter is fully briefed, (Docs. 13-15), and the Court now
rules on it.
qualify for benefits, an applicant must first show he is
“under a disability.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1)(E). If he shows he suffers from a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that prohibits him
from engaging in any “substantial gainful activity,
” the applicant is disabled. Id. §
rule, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
has created a five-step process for an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) to determine whether the applicant
meets the statutory definition of disability. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(1). This process may end at any step at
which the ALJ can find the applicant disabled or not.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ
determines whether the applicant is “doing substantial
gainful activity.” Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the applicant is not disabled.
Id. If he is not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and
considers whether any of the applicant's physical or
mental impairment or combination of impairments are
“severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
If that threshold is met, the ALJ proceeds to step three to
determine whether the applicant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R.
Part 404. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
applicant is disabled. Id. If not, before proceeding
to step four, the ALJ must assess the applicant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”). Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
RFC represents the most an applicant “can still do
despite [his] limitations.” Id. §
404.1545(a)(1). At step four, the ALJ uses the RFC to
determine whether the applicant can still perform his
“past relevant work.” Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the applicant is not disabled. If
not, the ALJ proceeds to the final step to determine
whether-considering the applicant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience-he “can make an adjustment to other
work.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
The ALJ's Decision
case, the ALJ found that Claimant was not engaged in
substantial gainful activity at step one. (Doc. 12-3 at 18).
At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following
right shoulder impingement; degenerative joint disease of the
right knee; bilateral hip arthralgia with a history of labral
tears, status-post debridements; obesity; anxiety disorder,
not otherwise specified, adjustment disorder with anxiety and
depressed mood; nightmare disorder; anxiety due to medical
illness; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and migraines.
(Id. at 19). The ALJ next determined that none of
these impairments met or medically equaled anything in
Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Part 404.
(Id.). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found
that-subject to various conditions-Claimant had the requisite
RFC to “perform light work” under 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b). (Id. at 21-31). To make that
determination, as pertinent here, the ALJ assigned little
weight to the opinions of Dr. Colin Joseph and Dr. John
Gilliam-who both treated Claimant. (Id. at 29-30).
The ALJ also did not accept Claimant's allegations
concerning the intensity of his hip and knee pain.
(Id. at 27). Finally, the ALJ assigned little weight
to a United States Department of Veterans Affairs
(“VA”) rating decision assessing Claimant
disabled. (Id. at 31). The ALJ ultimately concluded
that Claimant could not perform his past relevant work but
could make an adjustment to other work because, accounting
for all his limitations, he could still “perform the
requirements of representative occupations such as a
router.” (Id. at 33).
Standard of Review
Court may overturn the ALJ's denial of disability
benefits only if it is premised on legal error or unsupported
by substantial evidence. Luther v. Berryhill, 891
F.3d 872, 875 (9th Cir. 2018). “Substantial evidence
means . . . . such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir.
2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). To
determine whether substantial evidence exists, the Court
“must consider the entire record as a whole, weighing
both the evidence that supports and the evidence that
detracts from the [ALJ's] conclusion, and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Id. (quoting Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014)). The ALJ,
not this Court, draws inferences, resolves conflicts in
medical testimony, and determines credibility. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 1995); Gallant
v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984).
Therefore, the Court must uphold the ALJ's decision even
when “the evidence admits of more than one rational
interpretation.” Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d
577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984).
harmless error principles apply in this context, the Court
upholds the ALJ when the record makes clear that any error
was “‘inconsequential to the ultimate
nondisability determination,' or ‘if the
agency's path may reasonably be discerned,' even if
the agency ‘explains its decision with less than ideal
clarity.'” Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1099 (9th Cir. 2014) (citations
omitted). The Court “review[s] only the reasons
provided by the ALJ in the disability determination, ”
however, “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon
which [s]he did not rely.” Revels, 874 F.3d at
654 (quoting Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010); see
Trevizo v. Berryhil, 871 F.3d 664, 677 & n.4 (9th
Cir. 2017) (explaining that the district court erred by
looking to the record and developing its own reasons to
discredit a medical opinion); see also SEC v. Chenery
Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 88 (1943) (explaining that if an
agency order's validity depends on a determination
“which the agency alone is authorized to make and which
it has not made . . . a court cannot intrude upon the domain
which Congress has exclusively entrusted to an administrative
Opinions of Claimant's Treating Psychologist and Treating
first argues that the ALJ's reasons for assigning little
weight to the opinion of his treating psychologist, Dr. Colin
Joseph, and his treating physician, Dr. John Gilliam, are
legally insufficient. (Doc. 13 at 5-13). The Commissioner
maintains that the ALJ considered proper factors under the
applicable regulations when assigning these opinions little
weight. (Doc. 14 at 4-11).
medical opinion of a claimant's treating doctor is given
‘controlling weight' so long as it ‘is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the claimant's]
record.'” Revels, 874 F.3d at 654 (quoting
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)). When it is not controlling,
the ALJ should weigh the opinion “according to factors
such as the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, supportability, and consistency with
the record.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)-(6)). The ALJ must also consider any other
factors tending “to support or contradict the medical
opinion.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(6). Where, as
here, the record contains conflicting medical opinions, the
ALJ may reject a treating doctor's opinion if the ALJ
provides, “specific and legitimate reasons that are
supported by substantial evidence, ” which generally
requires “setting out a detailed ...