United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER RE CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
FRED VAN SICKLE Senior United States District Judge.
THIS MATTER comes before the Court without oral argument based upon the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff is represented by Lora Lee Stover. The defendant is represented by Danielle R. Mroczek. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion is denied and the defendant’s is granted.
During 2011, Timothy C. Conner applied for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI supplemental security income (“SSI”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his initial application for benefits and it declined to reconsider its decision. Mr. Conner exercised his right to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On November 28, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Mr. Conner asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ’s decision, but, on May 13, 2014, the Appeals Council decided not to do so. At that point, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.900(a)(5), 416.1400(a)(5). Mr. Conner commenced this action on June 19, 2014. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Both he and the Commissioner move for summary judgment.
Timothy C. Conner was born on November 5, 1964. Since the late 1990s, he has worked principally as a cook, although he has held construction and landscaping jobs. (TR 72.) As a line cook, Mr. Conner frequently lifted heavy objects. Heavy lifting took its toll. Eventually, he injured his back and stopped working for an extended period. (TR 74.) In 2009, he had knee surgery (TR 47), and, in 2011, he had back surgery (TR 50). The surgeries have helped, but physical challenges remain. Not only does Mr. Conner continue to experience pain when he engages in basic activities (like bending over or lifting his daughter (TR 84-86)), but also he has arthritis in his hands (possibly rheumatoid arthritis). (TR 49-50.)
During 2009, Mr. Conner enrolled in a community college program that teaches students the art of fabricating prosthetics and orthotics (TR 64). It takes two or three years to complete the program. (TR 65.) Mr. Conner received financial support for his education. (TR 65.) In return, he assisted fellow students 20 hours per week in a college computer lab. (TR 65-67.) Mr. Connor’s hard work and determination paid off. As of the fall of 2012, he had completed all but 12 of the credits he needs for his degree, and he had excelled academically. (TR 76.)
As part of the prosthetics and orthotics program, Mr. Conner participated in a five-week practicum during the summer of 2012. (TR 74-78.) The practicum was intense. Mr. Conner worked over eight hours per day (TR 77), though his arthritis hindered him (TR 76, 78). Frequently, he had to put his hands under hot water in order to combat the cramping he experienced. (TR 76, 78.)
Mr. Conner is raising a daughter without assistance from her mother. (TR 63-64.) The little girl was born during 2009. (TR 63.) Typically, Mr. Conner gets up early in the morning in order to treat his arthritis, feed and clothe his daughter, and then drive her to school. (TR 79.) He takes several medications in order to cope with his physical problems. (TR 49, 51.) The medications help, but they do not provide complete relief. He must live with significant pain. (TR 96-97.)
A person is disabled “if he is unable 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The SSA has established a five-step process for assessing disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
A. Step One
At step one, Mr. Conner had to show he is not engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). The term “[s]ubstantial gainful activity means work that . . . (a) [i]nvolves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties; and (b) [i]s done (or intended) for pay or profit.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.910. The ALJ found Mr. ...