United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE Chief United States Magistrate Judge
William George Clark, Jr. appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33,
after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 52-year-old man with a 10th-grade education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 221. His past
work experience includes employment as a boat builder.
Id. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in
December 2008. AR at 220.
4, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging an
onset date of December 22, 2009. AR at 188-89. Plaintiff
asserts that he is disabled due to hand injuries, pigeon-toed
feet, back problems, learning problems, hepatitis C, a
hernia, and hearing problems. AR at 220.
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 95-97, 102-06. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on October 22, 2013. AR at 29-66.
On November 13, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits based on her
finding that Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing
in significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 12-22.
Plaintiff's administrative appeal of the ALJ's
decision was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 1-4, making
the ALJ's ruling the “final decision” of the
Commissioner as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. §
sought judicial review, and the U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Washington reversed the ALJ's
decision and remanded for further proceedings. AR at 619-39.
The ALJ held another hearing on March 7, 2016 (AR at 536-56),
and subsequently found Plaintiff not disabled. AR at 514-29.
On August 23, 2016, Plaintiff timely filed the present action
challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 1, 3.
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla,
less than a preponderance, and 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); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th
Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining
credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and
resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews
v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While
the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it
may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart,
278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
claimant, Mr. Clark bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111,
1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act
defines disability as the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or
mental impairment which has lasted, or is 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
is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such
severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in
the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A);
see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99
(9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the
burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a
claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence,
the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent
steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is,
disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant
must establish that he has one or more medically severe
impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If
the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets
or equals any of the listed impairments described in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the
listings for the required twelve-month duration requirement
is disabled. Id.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner
evaluates the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can
still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the opposite is true,
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, taking into
consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the
Commissioner finds the claimant is unable to perform other
work, then the claimant is found disabled and benefits may be
April 28, 2016, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Act on September 30, 2012.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity from September 15, 2010, through his date last