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Weatherford v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Washington

November 5, 2014

DAVID J. WEATHERFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For David Josiah Weatherford, Plaintiff: Dana Chris Madsen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Dana C Madsen, Spokane, WA.

For Carolyn W Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Pamela Jean DeRusha, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Attorney's Office - SPO, Spokane, WA; Lars Joseph Nelson, Social Security Administration - SEA, Seattle, WA.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Fred Van Sickle, Senior United States District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Ct. Rec. 15, 17.) Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents plaintiff; Special Assistant United States Attorney Lars J. Nelson represents defendant. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the court GRANTS defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

JURISDICTION

Plaintiff David J. Weatherford (plaintiff) protectively filed for supplemental security income (SSI) and disability income benefits (DIB) on December 20, 2010. (Tr. 162, 185.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of November 1, 2008. (Tr. 162.) Benefits were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 114, 118, 120.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held before ALJ R.J. Payne on May 23, 2012. (Tr. 36-73.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 44-73.) Medical expert Alexander White, M.D., also testified. (Tr. 37-44.) The ALJ denied benefits (Tr. 21-30) and the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1.) The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of plaintiff and the Commissioner, and will therefore only be summarized here.

Plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of the second hearing. (Tr. 45.) He has a high school diploma. (Tr. 45.) He has work experience as a janitor and a day laborer. (Tr. 45-47.) His neck is stiff and sometimes it hurts. (Tr. 50.) His shoulders bother him because of his neck problem. (Tr. 49.) He has headaches daily. (Tr. 51.) He has low back pain. (Tr. 52.) Physical therapy helped his low back pain. (Tr. 55.) He has diabetes. (Tr. 55.) He has stiffness and tingling in his feet and legs if he sits or stands too long. (Tr. 56-57.) He experiences tingling, burning, popping, creaking and sometimes pain in his left knee. (Tr. 58.) He has a hernia. (Tr. 59.) He uses a CPAP machine for sleep apnea. (Tr. 60.) Plaintiff testified he has nagging pain pretty much all the time. (Tr. 66.) The worst pain is in his shoulders due to problems with his neck. (Tr. 66.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of a Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision, made through an ALJ, when the determination is not based on legal error and is supported by substantial evidence. See Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). " The [Commissioner's] determination that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence." Delgado v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 570, 572 (9th Cir. 1983) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975), but less than a preponderance. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 601-602 (9th Cir. 1989); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence " means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (citations omitted). " [S]uch inferences and conclusions as the [Commissioner] may reasonably draw from the evidence" will also be upheld. Mark v. Celebrezze, 348 F.2d 289, 293 (9th Cir. 1965). On review, the Court considers the record as a whole, not just the evidence supporting the decision of the Commissioner. Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Kornock v. Harris, 648 F.2d 525, 526 (9th Cir. 1980)).

It is the role of the trier of fact, not this Court, to resolve conflicts in evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400. If evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). 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. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). Thus, if there is substantial evidence to support the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence that will support a finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of the Commissioner is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987).

SEQUENTIAL 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 12 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 his impairments are of such severity that plaintiff is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering plaintiff's age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful 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 claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines if he or she is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).

If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activities, the decision maker proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a ...


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