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 Jefferson's
Complaint [Dkt. 3] for review of the Social Security
Commissioner's partially favorable decision regarding
disability insurance and supplemental security income
suffers from degenerative disc disease and gout. See
Dkt. 10, Administrative Record 620. He applied for disability
insurance and SSI benefits in May 2011, alleging he became
disabled beginning in November 2006. See AR 617-18.
Those applications were denied upon initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. See AR 617. A hearing
was held before Administrative Law Judge Tom L. Morris, and
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision in September 2012.
See Id. Jefferson appealed, and this Court remanded
the case for further proceedings. See Id. The ALJ
held a second hearing in September 2015. See Id.
Jefferson, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as
did a vocational expert. See AR 636-81.
issued a partially favorable decision, determining Jefferson
to be disabled as of April 9, 2013, but not before that date.
See AR 617-29. The Appeals Council denied
Jefferson's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. See AR 587-90; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.981, 416.1481. In July 2016, Jefferson filed a complaint
in this Court seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision. See Dkt. 3.
argues that the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
before April 9, 2013, should be reversed and
remanded for an award of benefits or for further
administrative proceedings because the ALJ erred; (1) in
evaluating Jefferson's severe impairments at step two;
(2) in evaluating whether Jefferson's impairments met a
listing at step three; (3) in evaluating Jefferson's
testimony; and (4) in assessing Jefferson's residual
functional capacity and finding him capable of performing
other work available in the national economy before April 9,
Commissioner argues that the ALJ did not err in evaluating
Jefferson's severe impairments, whether they met a
listing, or Jefferson's testimony, so the ALJ's RFC
and step-five finding that Jefferson could perform other work
were supported by substantial evidence and should be
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); Can 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
Browner 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)).
Jefferson's Severe Impairments
two of the sequential evaluation process, "the medical
severity" of a claimant's impairments is considered.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If the claimant has
no "severe medically determinable" impairment, then
he 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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (c), 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 his
"impairments or their symptoms affect [his] 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); 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. 2012).
regarding the contested period, the ALJ found that Jefferson
had the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease at
step two and continued with the sequential evaluation I
process. See AR 620. Still, Jefferson argues that
the ALJ erred by failing to find a herniated disc and lumbar
radiculopathy to be severe impairments and that the error is
harmful because the ALJ failed to consider whether Jefferson
was eligible for a closed period of disability from November
2006 through May 2008. See Dkt. 12, pp. 4-15.
Jefferson alleges that the ALJ's exclusion of these
impairments at step two affected the rest of the ALJ's
analysis. See Id. Any such impact is discussed