United States District Court, E.D. Washington
DECISION AND ORDER
VICTOR E. BIANCHINI, Magistrate Judge.
In July of 2010, Plaintiff Brett Kelly May applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social Security denied the applications.
Plaintiff, represented by Robert Gary Ponti, Esq., commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 7).
On June 3, 2014, the Honorable Rosanna Malouf Peterson, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docket No. 15).
The procedural history may be summarized as follows:
On July 15, 2010, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2005. (T at 179-80, 181-90). The applications were denied initially and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On February 22, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Moira Ausems. (T at 33). Plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. (T at 54-73, 90-93). The ALJ also received testimony from Dr. Marian Martin, a psychological expert, (T at 41-54) Scott Whitmer, a vocational expert, (T at 93-98), and Kristi Saranto, an acquaintance of Plaintiff. (T at 73-89).
On April 20, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying the applications for benefits and finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act. (T at 11-32). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on August 12, 2013, when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-4).
On October 2, 2013, Plaintiff, acting by and through his counsel, timely commenced this action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. (Docket No. 5). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on January 10, 2014. (Docket No. 10).
Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on April 22, 2014. (Docket No. 12). The Commissioner moved for summary judgment on June 26, 2014. (Docket No. 17). Plaintiff filed a reply memorandum of law on July 25, 2014. (Docket No. 21). As noted above, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 7).
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.
A. Sequential Evaluation Process
The Social Security Act ("the Act") defines disability as the "inability 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a plaintiff shall be determined to be under a disability only if any impairments are of such severity that a plaintiff is not only unable to do previous work but cannot, considering plaintiff's age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Thus, the definition of disability consists of both medical and vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not, the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines whether plaintiff has a medially severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
If plaintiff does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which compares plaintiff's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, plaintiff is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines whether the impairment prevents plaintiff from performing work which was performed in the past. If a plaintiff is able to perform previous work that plaintiff is deemed not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At this step, plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) is considered. If plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work, the fifth and final step in the process determines whether plaintiff is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987).
The initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden is met once plaintiff establishes that a mental or physical impairment prevents the performance of previous work. The burden then shifts, at step five, to the Commissioner to show that (1) plaintiff can perform other substantial gainful activity and (2) a ...