United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
B. Leighton United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Hicks's Complaint
[Dkt. 3] for review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of her application for supplemental security income
suffers from degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
degenerative joint disease of the left knee, asthma, carpal
tunnel syndrome, organic mental disorder, bipolar disorder,
and anxiety disorder. See Dkt. 7, Administrative
Record 11. She applied for SSI benefits in January 2011,
alleging she became disabled beginning in May 2006.
See AR 104. That application was denied upon initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. See
id. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
M.J. Adams in April 2012. See id. After the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision, Hicks appealed, and the
Appeals Council remanded the case for further proceedings. A
second hearing was held before the ALJ in November 2014.
See AR 9. Hicks, represented by counsel, appeared
and testified, as did a mental health clinician and a
vocational expert. See AR 69-98.
determined Hicks to be not disabled. See AR 9-26.
The Appeals Council denied Hicks's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. See AR 1-4; see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. In July 2016, Hicks
filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of
the Commissioner's final decision. See Dkt. 3.
argues the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
should be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or
for further administrative proceedings because the ALJ erred:
(1) in evaluating Hicks's severe impairments at step two;
(2) in evaluating the medical evidence in the record; and (3)
in assessing Hicks's residual functional capacity and
finding her capable of performing other work available in the
Commissioner argues the ALJ did not err in evaluating
Hicks's severe impairments or the medical evidence, so
the ALJ's RFC and step-five finding that Hicks could
perform other work were supported by substantial evidence and
should be affirmed.
Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld by the Court if the Commissioner
applied the “proper legal standards, ” and if
“substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports” that determination. See Hoffman v.
Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see
also Batson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772
F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) (“A decision
supported by substantial evidence will, nevertheless, be set
aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in
weighing the evidence and making the decision.”)
(citing Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987)).
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)
(citation omitted); see also Batson, 359 F.3d at
1193 (“[T]he Commissioner's findings are upheld if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.”). “The substantial evidence test
requires that the reviewing court determine” whether
the Commissioner's decision is “supported by more
than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a
preponderance of the evidence is required.”
Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10
(9th Cir. 1975). “If the evidence admits of more than
one rational interpretation, ” the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d
577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (“Where there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm
the decision actually made.”) (quoting Rhinehart v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
The ALJ's Evaluation of Hicks's Severe
two of the sequential evaluation process, “the medical
severity” of a claimant's impairments is
considered. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the claimant has no
“severe medically determinable” impairment, she
will be found not disabled. Id. An impairment is
“not severe” if it does not “significantly
limit [the claimant's] mental or physical abilities to do
basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(iii), (c); see also Social Security
Ruling 96-3p, 1996 WL 374181 at *1. The claimant has the
burden of proving that her “impairments or their
symptoms affect her ability to perform basic work
activities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1159-60 (9th Cir. 2001); Tidwell v. Apfel, 161
F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998).
step-two inquiry, however, is a de minimis screening
device used to dispose of groundless claims. See Smolen
v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). Once step
two is resolved in a claimant's favor, harmful error only
occurs if the ALJ fails to properly analyze evidence from any
impairments that shows work-related limitations beyond those
assessed in the RFC. See Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d
1071, 1076 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (error is
harmless where it is “inconsequential to the ultimate
nondisability determination”). Plaintiff has the burden
of establishing that an error resulted in actual harm.
See Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir.
the ALJ found that Hicks had several severe impairments at
step two and continued with the sequential evaluation
process. See AR 11. Still, Hicks argues the ALJ
erred by failing to find her shoulder impairment to be
severe, and that the error is harmful because “the ALJ
did not specifically discuss the shoulder condition at step
four.” See Dkt. 19, pp. 4-5. However, while
Hicks notes symptoms and resulting treatment related to her
shoulder impairment, she fails to identify any specific
functional limitations missing from the RFC. See id.
Regardless, the ALJ explained in his decision that the
medical evidence did not support limitations as a result of
Hicks's shoulder pain beyond those assessed in the RFC,
and gave sufficient reasons to discount any of Hicks's
subjective complaints. See AR 12, 16-19. Therefore,
Hicks has not met her burden to show harmful error in the
ALJ's assessment of Hicks's impairments at step two
and, as required, thereafter.
The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical ...