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McManis v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 8, 2015

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


JOHN T. RODGERS, Magistrate Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. ECF Nos. 15, 16. Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents Plaintiff, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Sarah L. Martin represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. 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 January 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed both a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Tr. 16; 60; 67. The parties agreed to an amended onset date of April 17, 2007. Tr. 43. Plaintiff reported that he was unable to work due to development disability, because he was developmentally slow and he had learning problems. Tr. 218. The claims were denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. Tr. 16; 60-100; 104-13.

On August 14, 2012, Administrative Law Judge James W. Sherry presided over a hearing at which medical expert Ellen Rozenfeld, Ed.M., Psy.D., and vocational expert Jinnie Lawson, and Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified. Tr. 31-59. On September 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 16-26. 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 23 years old, single, and living with his parents. Tr. 43-44.

Plaintiff said he has a 12th grade education, and his mother began homeschooling him in the seventh grade. Tr. 44; 288. While he was in public school, Plaintiff was enrolled in special education classes. Tr. 288.

He testified that he can read a newspaper, but he does not understand big words, and he can perform simple math. Tr. 44. Plaintiff said if he gets a letter in the mail, his mother has to read it to him. Tr. 47.

Plaintiff said he does not have a driver's license because he "cannot sit down and read that book." Plaintiff also said that he is able to read bus schedules and can figure out how to get places on the bus. Tr. 48. Plaintiff testified that he spends his time swimming, watching movies and playing games, but he does not leave the house often. Tr. 49. He occasionally walks to the store, and he can purchase items from a grocery list prepared by his mother and return home with the correct items. Tr. 49-50.

Plaintiff testified that he has worked as a dishwasher for brief periods in the past. Tr. 46. He said he could not work as a dishwasher today, because he cannot pass the food handler's exam. Tr. 52.


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 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 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 April 17, 2007, the amended alleged onset date. Tr. 18. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning/learning disorder, dysthymia, schizotypal personality disorder with dependent features. Tr. 18. 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. 19. ...

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