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Scoville v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 22, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 15, 16. Attorney Rosemary B. Schurman represents Richard John Scoville (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer A. Kenney represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on May 6, 2012, Tr. 216, alleging disability since October 31, 2010, Tr. 197-202, due to hepatitis C, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever with inflammation around the heart, and high blood pressure, Tr. 231. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 103-111. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Donna L. Walker held a hearing on November 26, 2014 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, medical expert Minh Vu, M.D., and vocational expert Daniel McKinney. Tr. 48-67. At the hearing, Plaintiff, through his attorney, amended his onset date to February 15, 2012. Tr. 51. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 9, 2015. Tr. 12-22. The Appeals Council denied review on April 28, 2016. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's January 9, 2015 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on May 30, 2016. ECF No. 1, 4.


         The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcript, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of the parties. They are only briefly summarized here.

         Plaintiff was 55 years old at the amended date of onset. Tr. 197. Plaintiff completed four or more years of college in 1992. Tr. 232. When applying for benefits, he reported that he had stopped working as of October 31, 2010. Tr. 231. His work history included being a painter and working with log furniture. Tr. 232, 257-260. In August of 2012, Brian LaSalle, ARNP stated that Plaintiff had a history of working in the construction trades and was presently working as a concrete finisher. Tr. 302. In June of 2013, Plaintiff reported to the Spokane Foot Clinic that he had been getting a rental property ready and had been on his feet for long hours. Tr. 382. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he had been paid “under the table” for most of his work as an adult. Tr. 61.


         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court reviews the ALJ's determinations of law de novo, deferring to a reasonable interpretation of the statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence 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). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097. If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either disability or non-disability, the ALJ's determination is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, a 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 and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988).


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This burden is met once the claimant establishes that physical or mental impairments prevent him from engaging in his previous occupations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). If the claimant cannot do his past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, and (2) specific jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (9th Cir. 2004). If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, a finding of “disabled” is made. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).


         On January 9, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 15, 2012, the amended date of onset. Tr. 14.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hepatitis C; liver cirrhosis; and polyarthralgias. Tr. 14.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 16.

         At step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual function capacity and determined he could perform a full range of medium work, stating “[h]e can lift and/or carry up to 50 pounds occasionally (1/3 of the workday) and 25 pounds frequently (2/3 of the workday). He can stand and/or walk up to 6 hours and sit up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.” Tr. 17. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's past relevant work as furniture ...

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