United States District Court, E.D. Washington
JOHN C. ALLEN, JR., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT; DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Stanley A. Bastian United States District Judge
the Court are Plaintiff John C. Allen, Jr.'s Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 13, and Defendant Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration's Cross-Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 17. The motions were heard without
oral argument. Plaintiff is represented by Cathy Helman and
Joseph Linehan, and Defendant is represented by Assistant
United States Attorney Timothy Durkin and Special Assistant
United States Attorney Terrye Shea. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion, denies
Defendant's motion, reverses the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), and remands for a determination of
Social Security payments with an onset date of January 1,
January 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff alleges an onset
date of January 1, 2001.
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On
February 9, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a
hearing held in Spokane, Washington before an ALJ. The ALJ
issued a decision on May 23, 2013, finding that Plaintiff was
not disabled. Plaintiff timely requested review by the
Appeals Council, which denied the request on July 21, 2016.
The Appeals Council's denial of review makes the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
filed a timely appeal with the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Washington on August 24, 2016.
The matter is before this Court under 42 U.S.C. §
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. § 404.1520(a)(4); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987).
Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activities? 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Substantial gainful activity is
work done for pay and requires compensation above the
statutory minimum. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574; 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. § 404.1571. If he is not, the ALJ
proceeds to step two.
Does the claimant have a medically-severe impairment or
combination of impairments? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1508-09. If the
impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third
Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the
listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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.
Id. If the impairment is not one conclusively
presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the
considering Step 4, the ALJ must first determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). An individual's residual functional capacity
is his ability to do physical and mental work activities on a
sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments.
Does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing work
he has performed in the past? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is
not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot perform
this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final
Is the claimant able to perform other work in the national
economy in view of his age, education, and work experience?
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 him from engaging in
his previous occupation. Id. At step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
can perform other substantial gainful activity. Id.
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). The Court reviews the entire record. Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). “If
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.
Secr'y 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).
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 44-years old. He lives in a
trailer home with his wife of over twenty-four years. He
functions in the low average range of intelligence ...