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Silva v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 23, 2014

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


JOHN T. RODGERS, Magistrate Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. ECF Nos. 17, 18. Attorney D. James Tree 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. 24. 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 March 23, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning September 23, 2004. Tr. 22; 196. Plaintiff reported that she was unable to work due to PTSD, depressive disorder, learning disability, IQ of 67, major depression, anxiety and asthma. Tr. 168. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Tr. 101-21.

On April 25, 2012, ALJ Donna W. Shipps convened a hearing. Tr. 48-100. At that hearing, medical expert Marian Martin, Ph.D., vocational expert Daniel McKinney, and Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified. Tr. 48-100. On May 22, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 22-34. The Appeals Council declined review. Tr. 1-4. 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 38 years old and was living with her twenty-three year old daughter, three nieces and nephews and one granddaughter. Tr. 67-68. Plaintiff finished the sixth grade, and quit school the following year because she was pregnant. Tr. 67; 480.

Plaintiff testified that she was abused as a child, and she suffers occasional flashbacks. Tr. 71-72. She said she has learned to cope with anxiety by utilizing breathing exercises that can last between ten and thirty minutes. Tr. 72-73.

Plaintiff testified that her adult daughter moved home to help her, and as a result, Plaintiff cooks for the household and her daughter handles cleaning and laundry. Tr. 69. She watches television and attends church. Tr. 481. Plaintiff said she sometimes attends school functions for the children, but she tries to minimize the time she is there, or she stands by the exit. Tr. 73. She said she keeps her curtains drawn during the day, and her doors locked. Tr. 74. She drives, and she often has one of the kids go to the store with her, because she tends to "forget the stuff." Tr. 76.


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 and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). If substantial evidence exists to support the administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence exists that will support 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 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).


At step one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 23, 2010, her application date. Tr. 24. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of bilateral ankle pain, allergic rhinitis, low back pain secondary to lumbalgia and lumbar spondylosis and depression. Tr. 24. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). Tr. 26. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work. Tr. 27-28. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a housekeeper, sorter, agricultural produce packer, and harvest worker. Tr. 32. Alternatively, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, other jobs exist in significant numbers that Plaintiff can perform, such as small products assembler, packing and filling machine operator, and production inspector and checker. Tr. 33-34. As a result, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the date of the application was filed through the date of the decision. Tr. 34.


Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by (1) finding Plaintiff had little credibility; (2) improperly evaluating the medical evidence; and (3) relying ...

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