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Woodall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

July 26, 2017

JESSICA RAE WOODALL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, INTER ALIA

          LONNY R. SUKO Senior United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT are the Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) and the Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).

         JURISDICTION

         Jessica Rae Woodall, Plaintiff, applied for Title II Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) on May 15, 2012. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing which was held on September 5, 2014 before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Donna Walker. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, as did Vocational Expert (VE) K. Diane Kramer. On November 3, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff not disabled. The Appeals Council denied a request for review of the ALJ's decision, making that decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review. The Commissioner's final decision is appealable to district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and §1383(c)(3).

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts have been presented in the administrative transcript, the ALJ's decision, the Plaintiff's and Defendant's briefs, and will only be summarized here. At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 32 years old. She has past relevant work experience as a fast food worker, cashier, parts delivery driver, food delivery driver, and server. Plaintiff alleges disability since June 28, 2010, on which date she was 28 years old. Plaintiff's date last insured for Title II DIB benefits was December 31, 2015.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The [Commissioner's] determination that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence...." Delgado v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 570, 572 (9th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975), but less than a preponderance. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 601-602 (9th Cir. 1989); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420 (1971). "[S]uch inferences and conclusions as the [Commissioner] may reasonably draw from the evidence" will also be upheld. Beane v. Richardson, 457 F.2d 758, 759 (9th Cir. 1972); Mark v. Celebrezze, 348 F.2d 289, 293 (9th Cir. 1965). On review, the court considers the record as a whole, not just the evidence supporting the decision of the Commissioner. Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989); Thompson v. Schweiker, 665 F.2d 936, 939 (9th Cir. 1982).

         It is the role of the trier of fact, not this court to resolve conflicts in evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400. If evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the decision of the ALJ. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984).

         A decision supported by substantial evidence will still be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987).

         ISSUES

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in: 1) improperly weighing the medical opinions; and 2) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's testimony about her symptoms.

         DISCUSSION

         SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if her impairments are of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do her previous work but cannot, considering her age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Id.

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287 (1987). Step one determines if she is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If she is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) and 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two, which determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and 416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpart 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 which determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work she has performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform her previous work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform this work, the fifth and final step in the process determines whether she is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of her age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404, 1520(a)(4)(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). The initial burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents her from engaging in her previous occupation. The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show (1) that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity and (2) that a "significant number of jobs exist in the national economy" which claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1984).

         ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ found the following: 1) Plaintiff has “severe” medical impairments consisting of seizure disorder, headaches, depression, anxiety, and personality disorder; 2) Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpart P, App. 1; 3) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, or be exposed to hazardous machinery or heights; should avoid concentrated exposure to noises, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; has the ability to perform simple, repetitive tasks with superficial public contact working in proximity to, but not close cooperation, with others; 4) Plaintiff's RFC does allows her to perform her past relevant work as a fast ...


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