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Pearson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 30, 2015

JAMES R. PEARSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. ECF Nos. 13, 14. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents James R. Pearson (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey R. McClain represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. 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.


Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on February 14, 2011, alleging disability beginning January 25, 2008. Tr. 227-39. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 143-60, 163-71. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) James Sherry held a hearing on December 20, 2012, at which Plaintiff, represented by an attorney representative, testified as did vocational expert (VE) K. Diane Kramer. Tr. 103-40. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 26, 2013. Tr. 84-97. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-4. The ALJ’s February 2013 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on October 30, 2014. ECF No. 1, 4.


The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcript, the ALJ’s decision, and the briefs of the parties. They are only briefly summarized here.

Plaintiff was 54 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 109. Plaintiff graduated from high school and has a two year degree in architecture. Tr. 110. Plaintiff previously worked in construction, eventually becoming a field supervisor/site foreman. Tr. 111, 114.

Plaintiff stopped working sometime in 2007 after he contracted MRSA and collapsed on the job. Tr. 115-16. Plaintiff underwent a number of surgeries. Tr. 119. Plaintiff testified that he has pain all over his body, especially below his hips. Tr. 120. Plaintiff testified that his pain started after he fell from a five story building in 1984, but his pain started to become debilitating sometime in 2007. Tr. 120-21. Plaintiff also testified that he has pain in his neck, which causes numbness in his hands. Tr. 123-24. Plaintiff testified that he has hand tremors resulting from a minor stroke. Tr. 130. Plaintiff testified that his carpal tunnel usually only bothers him when he puts on a jacket or if there is stress on his shoulders. Tr. 131.

Plaintiff testified that he can climb a short flight of stairs. Tr. 125. Plaintiff stated he can alternate between sitting, walking, and lying down for about fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. Tr. 125-26. Plaintiff testified that he cannot sleep longer than four hours at a time because his body starts to hurt. Tr. 126. Plaintiff testified that he cannot watch a movie start to finish because he loses interest. Tr. 126.

Plaintiff can prepare simple, microwavable meals and do dishes, but doing chores takes him a long time and he needs to take breaks. Tr. 127. Plaintiff has difficulty standing while taking showers and needs to sit while getting dressed. Tr. 128. Plaintiff’s hand pain prevents him from tying his shoelaces and is aggravated from lifting as much as a gallon of milk. Tr. 132.

Plaintiff engaged in physical therapy, which only made his pain worse. Tr. 121. Plaintiff uses a cane; his doctors did not prescribe use of a cane, but Plaintiff testified that his doctors approve of him using it. Tr. 124-25.


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 Court reviews the ALJ’s determinations of law de novo, deferring to a reasonable interpretation of the 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. Comm’r of Soc. 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, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon claimants to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This burden is met once claimants establish that physical or mental impairments prevent them from engaging in their previous occupations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). If claimants cannot do their past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimants can make an adjustment to other work, and (2) specific jobs exist in the national economy which claimants can perform. Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (2004). If claimants cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, a finding of “disabled” is made. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(i-v), 416.920(a)(4)(i-v).


On February 26, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. Preliminary, for purposes of Plaintiff’s DIB application, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2012. Tr. 89.

At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 25, 2008, the alleged onset date. Tr. 89.

At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome-right greater than left, lumbago, hypertension, and alcohol abuse. Tr. 89.

At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 91. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual function capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of light work. Tr. 91. The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the capacity to

[L]ift and carry up to ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally . . . sit, stand, and walk each, for a total of six hours in an eight hour work day; [Plaintiff] may never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; [Plaintiff] may occasionally climb ramps and stairs; [Plaintiff] may occasionally balance, stop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; [Plaintiff] is unlimited with pushing and pulling; [Plaintiff] may frequently handle and ...

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