United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Terry Brown appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-83f, 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
protective filing date, Plaintiff was a 56-year-old man with
a high school diploma and a two-year college degree in
technical illustration. Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 549-50. His past work experience
includes employment as a electronics purchasing agent,
assembler, and parts stocker; car salesperson; retail clerk;
bank loan processor; and food bank aide. AR at 184, 196.
Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in 2009. AR at 196.
November 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed a claim for SSI
payments, alleging an onset date of April 17, 2009. AR at
161-67, 230. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due to
back pain and depression. See, e.g., AR at 222.
Commissioner denied Plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 96-103, 107-14. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on March 1, 2012. AR at 39-66. On
March 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled and denied benefits based on his finding that
Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work, as well as
specific job existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. AR at 22-34. Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the
ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at
1-6, making the ALJ's ruling the “final
decision” of the Commissioner as that term is defined
by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
sought judicial review in U.S. District Court for the Western
District of Washington, which granted the parties'
stipulation to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for
further administrative proceedings. AR at 596, 602-03. The
ALJ held a second hearing on May 14, 2015. AR at 534-65. On
June 26, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. AR at
477-490. The Appeals Council found no reason to assume
jurisdiction (AR at 464-73), and Plaintiff timely filed a
complaint in this court. 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. Id.
claimant, Mr. Brown 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
26, 2015, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since November 18, 2010, the application date.
2. The claimant's back disorder, obesity, and depression
are severe impairments.
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1.
4. The claimant has the RFC to perform medium work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c). The claimant can have
frequent interaction with the general public, co-workers, or
supervisors. His job tasks should not include directing
others. He is able to deal with routine workplace stressors
and to make routine workplace decisions generally associated
with occupations with an specific vocational preparation
(“SVP”) of 1-3. He is able to understand,
remember, and carry out simple and detailed tasks and
instructions generally required by occupations with an SVP of
5. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a retail sales clerk, and, in the alternative, can perform
other jobs that exist in significant ...