United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
H. WHALEY Senior United States District Judge
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, ECF Nos. 13 & 18. Plaintiff Emily Elyse Brennan
brings this action seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), of the Commissioner's final
decision, which denied her application for Supplemental
Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 1381-1383F. After reviewing the
administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the
Court is now fully informed. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
Brennan filed her application for Supplemental Security
Income under Title XVI on April 11, 2012. AR 204-08. Her
alleged onset date is December 1, 2008. AR 205. Her
application was initially denied on July 16, 2012, AR 90-104,
and on reconsideration on October 18, 2012, AR 105-119.
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Caroline Siderius held a
hearing on March 26, 2014, AR 42-63, and a supplemental
hearing on July 29, 2014, AR 64-89. On September 25, 2014,
the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Brennan ineligible for
disability benefits under Title XVI. AR 21-37. The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Brennan's request for review on
January 19, 2016, AR 1-5, making the ALJ's ruling the
“final decision” of the Commissioner.
Brennan timely filed the present action challenging the
denial of benefits on March 11, 2016. ECF No. 3. Accordingly,
Ms. Brennan's claims are properly before this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Sequential Evaluation Process
Social Security 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant shall
be determined to be under a disability only if the
claimant's impairments are of such severity that the
claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, but
cannot, considering claimant's age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other substantial gainful work that
exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(2)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4);
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
one inquires whether the claimant is presently engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b) & 416.920(b). Substantial
gainful activity is defined as significant physical or mental
activities done or usually done for profit. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1572 & 416.972. If the claimant is
engaged in substantial activity, he or she is not entitled to
disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 &
416.920(b). If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.
two asks whether the claimant has a severe impairment, or
combination of impairments, that significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) &
416.920(c). A severe impairment is one that has lasted or is
expected to last for at least twelve months, and must be
proven by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508-09 & 416.908-09. If the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, or combination of impairments, the
disability claim is denied, and no further evaluative steps
are required. Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the third
three involves a determination of whether any of the
claimant's severe impairments “meets or
equals” one of the listed impairments acknowledged by
the Commissioner to be sufficiently severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526 & 416.920(d), 416.925,
416.926; 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1 (“the
Listings”). If the impairment meets or equals one of
the listed impairments, the claimant is per se
disabled and qualifies for benefits. Id. If the
claimant is not per se disabled, the evaluation
proceeds to the fourth step.
four examines whether the claimant's residual functional
capacity enables the claimant to perform past relevant work.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f) & 416.920(e)-(f).
If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, the
claimant is not entitled to disability benefits and the
inquiry ends. Id.
five shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove that the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, taking into account the claimant's age,
education, and work experience. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512(f), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c) &
416.912(f), 416.920(g), 416.960(c). To meet this burden, the
Commissioner must establish that (1) the claimant is capable
of performing other work; and (2) such work exists in
“significant numbers in the national economy.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c)(2); 416.960(c)(2);
Beltran v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir.
Standard of Review
district court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
scope of review under § 405(g) is limited, and the
Commissioner's decision will be disturbed “only if
it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on
legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1144,
1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing § 405(g)). Substantial
evidence means “more than a mere scintilla but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d
978, 980 (9th Cir.1997) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala,
53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). In determining whether the Commissioner's
findings are supported by substantial evidence, “a
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir.
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Matney v.
Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
evidence in the record “is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the
ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012); see
also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002) (if the “evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the conclusion must be
upheld”). Moreover, a district court “may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111. An error
is harmless “where it is inconsequential to the
[ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination.”
Id. at 1115. The burden of showing that an error is
harmful generally falls upon the party appealing the
ALJ's decision. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S.
396, 409-10 (2009).
Statement of Facts
Brennan was born in 1989. AR 36. She has less than a high
school education, but she is able to communicate in English.
Id. She has previous work experience as a cashier.
Brennan presents with physical and mental impairments. She
has a long history of pelvic and lower abdominal pain, and
she has undergone multiple laparoscopic procedures to address
this. AR 23-30. She has also a history of migraine headaches
and self-reported seizure activity. Id. In addition,
she struggles with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic
stress disorder. Id. Due to her physical
impairments, she has been on multiple medications for pain,
including marijuana. Id.; AR 32.