United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge.
before the Court is Dennis M. Monroe's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal from the Social Security
Commissioner's (“Commissioner”) denial of his
application for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. (Doc. 1). The Court now
rules on the appeal.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on
January 29, 2015. (Doc. 12-6 at 2). Plaintiff's
application was denied at the initial stage, upon
reconsideration, and by the ALJ after a hearing.
The Disability Determination
qualify for social security benefits, a claimant must 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 claimant is disabled. Id. §
423(d)(1)-(2). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) has created a five-step process for an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to determine
whether the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ determines that the individual is
not disabled at any step, the inquiry ends. Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4). “The burden of proof is on the
claimant at steps one through four, ” and the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Bray v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th
one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is
“doing substantial gainful activity.” §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If he is not, the ALJ must proceed to step
two and consider whether the claimant has a physical or
mental impairment or a combination of impairments that are
“severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
If there is severe impairment, the ALJ proceeds to step three
to determine 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.
Part 404. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
claimant is disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ must
assess the claimant's “residual functional
capacity” (“RFC”) before proceeding to step
four. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). The RFC represents
the most a claimant “can still do despite [his]
limitations.” Id. § 404.1545(a)(1). At
step four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can still
do “past relevant work” in light of the
claimant's RFC. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
If not, the ALJ proceeds to the final step to determine
whether the claimant “can make an adjustment to other
work” considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id. §
The ALJ's Decision
denied Plaintiff social security benefits because she
determined he could do the full range of medium exertional
work. (Doc. 12-3 at 31-32). After finding that Plaintiff was
not engaged in substantial gainful activity at step one, at
step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
“medically determinable mental impairments of major
depressive disorder and mild cognitive disorder, considered
singly and in combination, do not cause more than minimal
limitation in the claimant's ability to perform basic
mental work activities and are therefore nonsevere.”
(Id. at 24-26). However, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff's hemochromatosis and obstructive sleep apnea
were severe impairments, so she proceeded to step three.
(Id. at 24).
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's severe
impairments “do not meet or medically equal the
criteria of any impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1.” (Id. at 27). Therefore, the
ALJ underwent the RFC analysis. (Id. at 27-29). In
doing so, she discounted Plaintiff's subjective symptom
testimony and the opinions of his treating providers which
indicated moderate, moderately severe, and severe limitations
in various activities performed “on a sustained basis
in a routine work setting, ” (Doc. 12-11 at 82-83 (Ex.
8F) (NP Nemati); Doc. 12-13 at 47-48 (Ex. 15F) (Dr.
Saunders)). (Doc. 12-3 at 27-29). The ALJ instead credited
the Disability Determination Service's reviewing medical
consultant and psychological consultant. (Id. at
29). The medical consultant determined Plaintiff could do the
full range of work at the medium exertional level, and the
psychological consultant determined Plaintiff's mental
impairments were nonsevere. (Id.). The ALJ's
ultimate conclusion was that Plaintiff's impairments
restrict him “to the full range of the medium
exertional level.” (Id. at 31). At step four,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff's past work was at the
medium exertional level, and thus, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits.
(Id. at 31-32).
ALJ's decision to deny a claim for disability benefits
may be reversed “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) (citation
omitted). The ALJ, as the trier of fact, “must resolve
conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support
either outcome, the [C]ourt may not substitute its judgment
for that of the ALJ.” Matney v. Sullivan, 981
F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). The ALJ is also
“entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the
evidence.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 2008). And, it is the ALJ's
responsibility to resolve conflicts in medical testimony,
determine credibility, and resolve ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Accordingly, the ALJ has the “duty to fully and fairly
develop the record and to assure that the claimant's
interests are considered.” Tonapetyan v.
Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1288 (9th Cir.
Court “may not affirm simply by isolating a
‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'”
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)
(citation omitted). Moreover, “[a]lthough the ALJ's
analysis need not be extensive, the ALJ must provide some
reasoning in order for [the Court] to meaningfully determine
whether the ALJ's conclusions were supported by
substantial evidence.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin,
806 F.3d 487, 495 (9th Cir. 2015). In other words, if the
ALJ's “path” cannot “reasonably be
discerned, ” the ALJ's decision must be reversed.
Id. (quoting Alaska Dep't of Envtl.
Conservation v. E.P.A., 540 U.S. 461, 497 (2004)). As
such, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons
asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon in support
of those reasons. See Orn, 495 F.3d at 630.
contends that the ALJ erred in the weight she gave the
opinions of his treating providers and the opinions of the
agency consultants, in discounting Plaintiff's subjective
symptom testimony, and in concluding that Plaintiff's
mental conditions do not constitute severe impairments. (Doc.
argues that the ALJ did not properly weigh the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating providers. (Doc. 15 at 3-8).
Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting
Plaintiff's request to subpoena the agency consultants
who evaluated his conditions. (Id. at 9-10).