United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Stanley A. Bastian United States District Judge
the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment,
ECF No. 11, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment,
ECF No. 13. The motions were heard without oral argument. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiff's
motion, grants Defendant's motion, and affirms the
administrative law judge (ALJ).
August 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
benefits, and also filed a supplemental security income (SSI)
application. Plaintiff alleged that she is disabled,
beginning August 30, 2008, due to irritable bowel syndrome;
autism; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); gluten
intolerance; generalized anxiety disorder; Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder (OCD); stress fractures in both legs;
left shoulder injury; and brain injury and seizures.
applications were denied initially on December 10, 2012 and
again denied on reconsideration on February 28, 2011. A
request for a hearing was made on March 31, 2013. On December
9, 2014, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing in Spokane,
Washington before ALJ Jesse Shumway. Vocational Expert (VE)
Sharon Welter participated, as did Medical Expert (ME) Dr.
Minh Vu, and ME Dr. Nancy Winfrey. Plaintiff was represented
by attorney Lora Lee Stover. Ms. Stover represents Plaintiff
at this Court.
issued a decision on January 28, 2015, finding that Plaintiff
has not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act, and denying benefits. Plaintiff timely
requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on
May 17, 2016. The Appeals Council's denial of review
makes the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §405(h).
filed a timely appeal with the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of Washington on July 14, 2016. The instant
matter is before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
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). A claimant shall be determined to be
under a disability only if his 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 experiences, engage in any other
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987).
One: Whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). Substantial gainful
activity is work done for pay and requires compensation above
the statutory minimum. 20 C.F.R. § 416.972(a); Keyes
v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1053, 1057 (9th Cir. 1990). If the
claimant is engaged in substantial activity, benefits are
denied. 20 C.F.R. § 416.971. If she is not, the ALJ
proceeds to step two.
Two: Whether the claimant has a medically-severe impairment
or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c).
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. A
severe impairment is one that lasted or must be expected to
last for at least 12 months and must be proven through
objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 416.909. If the
impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third
Three: Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals
one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the
Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404 Subpt. P. App. 1. If the impairment meets or
equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is
conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is
not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation
proceeds to the fourth step.
considering Step Four, the ALJ must first determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(e). An individual's residual functional capacity
is her ability to do physical and mental work activities on a
sustained basis despite limitations from her impairments.
Four: Whether the impairment prevents the claimant from
performing work she has performed in the past. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform her
previous work, she is not disabled. Id. If the
claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to
the fifth and final step.
Five: Whether the claimant is able to perform other work in
the national economy in view of her age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits.
Tackett v. Apfel, 108 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999). This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a
physical or mental impairment prevents her from engaging in
her previous occupation. Id. At step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
can perform other substantial gainful activity. Id.
Standard of Review
Commissioner's determination will be set aside only when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir.
1992) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Substantial evidence
is “more than a mere scintilla, ” Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), but “less
than a preponderance.” Sorenson v. Weinberger,
514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must uphold
the ALJ's denial of benefits if the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the decision of the administrative law judge.
Batson v. Barnhart, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir.
2004). But “[i]f the evidence can support either
outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that
of the ALJ.” Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019.
decision supported by substantial evidence will be set aside
if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing
the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v.
Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 839 F.2d 432,
433 (9th Cir. 1988). An ALJ is allowed
“inconsequential” errors as long as they are
immaterial to the ultimate nondisability
determination.” Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006).
Statement of Facts
facts have been presented in the administrative transcript,
the ALJ's decision, and the briefs to this Court; only
the most relevant facts are summarized here. At the time of
the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-four years old. Plaintiff
has a high school degree and has attended college but did not
obtain a degree. She has past relevant work as a nurse
assistant; laborer; sales clerk; data entry clerk; gate
guard; and forest firefighter. She has not worked since
testified that she served in the United States military and
received an honorable discharge after working primarily as a
data entry clerk. While in the military, Plaintiff revealed
her gender identity concerns and was discharged. She began
gender reassignment with a civilian endocrinologist in 2009.
Subsequently, Plaintiff attended college at Eastern
Washington University until there was an issue with her
financial aid. She had ...