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Munts v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 29, 2014

MATTHEW G. MUNTS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOHN T. RODGERS, Magistrate Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 18, 25. Attorney Joseph M. Linehan represents Plaintiff, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Miller represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 8. After reviewing the administrative record and the briefs filed by the parties, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


On May 7, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Title II and a Title XVI application for disability and supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning February 1, 1983. Tr. 31, 221. Later, he amended his onset date to May 7, 2009 and withdrew his Title II claim. Tr. 82-83. Plaintiff reported that he was unable to work due to biopolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, personality disorder, and Hepatitis B, C and D. Tr. 225. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Tr. 114-212.

On May 19, 2011, ALJ Moira Ausems convened a hearing. Tr. 57-79. At that hearing, medical expert John Nance, Ph.D., noted that Plaintiff's diagnoses and GAF scores were "all over the board" and the variance during that time period was likely attributable to Plaintiff's drug and alcohol use. Tr. 71. Dr. Nance recommended a psychological consultative exam because Plaintiff had recently experienced an extended period of sobriety. Tr. 74. The ALJ ordered Plaintiff to undergo a consultative examination, and she closed the hearing.[1] Tr. 78.

A second hearing was convened in front of ALJ Moira Ausems on January 18, 2012. Tr. 80-113. At that hearing, vocational expert Thomas Polsin and Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified. Tr. 91-113. On April 3, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 31-48. The Appeals Council declined review. Tr. 1-4. The instant matter is before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g).


The facts have been presented in the administrative hearing transcript, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of the parties and thus, they are only briefly summarized here. At the time of the second hearing, Plaintiff was 45 years old and living with his girlfriend in a friend's home. Tr. 378.

Plaintiff reported that in the eighth grade he was expelled for fighting. Tr. 378. He later obtained a GED and attended one year of college. He reported that during his childhood years, he was frequently sexually and emotionally abused by family and family friends. Tr. 378. At age 12, he began using alcohol and marijuana. Tr. 378. At age 13, he ran away from home and ended up in foster care in Montana. Tr. 378. For the following twenty years, Plaintiff regularly used methamphetamine and cocaine, and he spent considerable time incarcerated. Tr. 379. He said he participated in several detox programs, the most recent in July, 2010. Tr. 92. Plaintiff testified that from July 2010, to January 18, 2012, he relapsed and used drugs on four occasions, for a total of three to four weeks of drug use. Tr. 93.

Plaintiff's work history is sporadic and none of his jobs constituted substantial gainful employment. Tr. 106.

Plaintiff testified that he has headaches, his shoulders hurt and it feels like his "rotator cuffs have failed, " he has trouble lifting his arms, and he cannot lift himself out of bed. Tr. 98-99. He also said he cannot lift a jug of milk. Tr. 102-103. He said he cannot go into stores or he feels like he is being smothered. Tr. 101. Finally, he said he has not had mental health treatment since 2010, because he has no income and no benefits. Tr. 103-104.


The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The ALJ's determinations of law are reviewed de novo, with deference to a reasonable construction of the applicable statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence will still be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of Health ...

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