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Dunsmoor v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 10, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ROBERT H. WHALEY, Senior District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 15, 16. Attorney D. James Tree represents Plaintiff; Special Assistant United States Attorney Leisa A. Wolf represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). 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 September 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2008. Tr. 19; 177. On January 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, also alleging disability beginning December 31, 2008. Tr. 19; 177. Plaintiff indicated that she was unable to work due to: "spondylosis in neck, carpal tunnel syndrome, left kidney removed, stoma due to ulcerative colitis and diabetes type 2." Tr. 181. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially, denied upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Tr. 58-97; 103-07. On July 27, 2012, ALJ Sue Leise presided over a video administrative hearing from Portland, Oregon, at which vocational expert Amber Ruck, and Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified. Tr. 33-56. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim on August 10, 2012. Tr. 19-27. The Appeals Council declined review. Tr. 1-3. The instant matter is before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 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 hearing, Plaintiff was 52 years old, single, five-foot five inches tall, weighed 220 pounds, and she lived alone. Tr. 181; 200; 294. She completed the tenth grade in high school, earned a cosmetology license, and worked as a hair stylist for several years. Tr. 50-51.

Plaintiff testified that in 2008, she experienced migraine headaches about three times per month, and each headache could last for up to four days. Tr. 41-42. Plaintiff testified that she began experiencing problems with her hands in that same year, and her condition progressively deteriorated. Tr. 45. She also said that in 2008, neck pain and fatigue often prevented her from working. Tr. 41. Plaintiff explained her neck pain is the result of several discs and vertebrae pressing on her spinal cord, and the condition requires surgery. Tr. 45. She admitted that in 2008, her neck pain was less severe than at the time of the hearing. Tr. 45.

Plaintiff indicated that she can prepare simple meals, perform light housekeeping chores, and she shops about once per month for groceries. Tr. 202-03.


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 be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either disability or non-disability, the ALJ's determination is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987).


The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). In steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99. This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents him from engaging in his previous occupation. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). If a claimant cannot do his or her past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimant can make an adjustment to other work; and (2) specific jobs exist in the national economy which claimant can perform. Batson v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (2004). If a claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, a finding of "disabled" is made. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I-v), 416.920(a)(4)(I-v).


The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2008. Tr. 21. At step one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2008, the alleged onset date. Tr. 21. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical spondylosis, diabetes, left wrist tendonitis, migraines and carpal tunnel syndrome bilaterally. Tr. 21. The ALJ concluded that since the alleged onset date of disability, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 416.929(d), 416.925 and 416.926). Tr. 22. The ALJ also found that on or before December 31, 2008, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, with a few exertional limitations. Tr. 22.

The ALJ concluded that prior to December 31, 2008, Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work, and considering her age, education, work experience and RFC at that time, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could have performed, such as cashier II, assembler production, and cleaner, housekeeper. Tr. 25-26.

By contrast, the ALJ concluded that since Plaintiff's application date for XVI supplemental security income filed on January 24, 2011, Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work. Tr. 24. As a result, beginning January 24, 2011, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, no jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy ...

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