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Weller v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 8, 2017

ELIZABETH LEE WELLER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          THOMAS O. RICE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 15; 16). This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument. The Court has reviewed the administrative record and the parties' completed briefing, and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).

         ISSUES

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Title II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff raises two issues for this Court's review:

(1) Whether the ALJ improperly discredited Plaintiff's symptom claims.
(2) Whether the ALJ improperly weighed medical opinion evidence.

ECF No. 15 at 12. The Court evaluates each issue in turn.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under §405(g) is limited: the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” means relevant evidence that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1159 (quotation and citation omitted). This requires “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). “An ALJ can satisfy the ‘substantial evidence' requirement by ‘setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.'” Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1012) (quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998)). In determining whether this standard has been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole rather than searching for supporting evidence in isolation. Id.

         In reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. If the evidence in the record “is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). Further, a district court “may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless.” Id. An error is harmless “where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination.” Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009). We review only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which the ALJ did not rely. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         A claimant must satisfy two conditions to be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act. First, the claimant must be “unable 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). Second, the claimant's impairment must be “of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but cannot, considering his age, ...


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