Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gee v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 30, 2017

CHRIS GEE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYINGPLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 14, 20

          MARY K. DIMKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 20. The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. The Court, having reviewed the administrative record and the parties’ briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Plaintiffs motion (ECF No. 14) and grants Defendant’s motion (ECF No. 20).

         JURISDICTION

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

         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). Stated differently, substantial evidence equates to “more than a mere scintilla[,] but less than a preponderance.” Id (quotation and citation omitted). In determining whether the 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).

         FIVE-STEP 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, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step one, the Commissioner considers the claimant’s work activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity,” the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b); 416.920(b).

         If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two. At this step, the Commissioner considers the severity of the claimant’s impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant suffers from “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [his or her] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities,” the analysis proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c). If the claimant’s impairment does not satisfy this severity threshold, however, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c).

         At step three, the Commissioner compares the claimant’s impairment to severe impairments recognized by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment is as severe or more severe than one of the enumerated impairments, the Commissioner must find the claimant disabled and award benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d); 416.920(d).

         If the severity of the claimant’s impairment does not meet or exceed the severity of the enumerated impairments, the Commissioner must pause to assess the claimant’s “residual functional capacity.” Residual functional capacity (RFC), defined generally as the claimant’s ability to perform physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite his or her limitations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1); 416.945(a)(1), is relevant to both the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis.

         At step four, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the claimant’s RFC, the claimant is capable of performing work that he or she has performed in the past (past relevant work). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f); 416.920(f). If the claimant is incapable of performing such work, the analysis proceeds to step five.

         At step five, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the claimant’s RFC, the claimant is capable of performing other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the Commissioner must also consider vocational factors such as the claimant’s age, education and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant is capable of adjusting to other work, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1); 416.920(g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of adjusting to other work, analysis concludes with a finding that the claimant is disabled and is therefore entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1); 416.920(g)(1).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four above. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that (1) the claimant is capable of performing other work; and (2) such work “exists in significant numbers in the national economy.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c)(2); 416.960(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).

         ALJ’S FINDINGS

         Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on August 22, 2012, alleging an onset date of September 28, 2008. Tr. 241-44, 245-50. The applications were denied initially, Tr. 160-63, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 165-70. Plaintiff appeared for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on June 9, 2014, and supplemental hearings on August 28, 2014 and September 23, 2014. Tr. 33-44, 45-93, 94-107.[1] On September 26, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff’s claim. Tr. 16-27.

         At the outset, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act with respect to his disability insurance benefit claim through December 31, 2013. Tr. 18. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 28, 2008, the alleged onset date. Tr. 18. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: plantar fasciitis; asthma; obesity; a major depressive disorder; an anxiety-related disorder; and a personality disorder. Tr. 18. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment. Tr. 19. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff has the RFC

to perform a limited range of medium work. The claimant can lift and/or carry a maximum of 25 pounds frequently and maximum of 50 pounds occasionally. He can sit for 2 hours at a time for a total of 6 hours during an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant can stand for 2 hours at a time for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. Likewise, he can stand for 2 hours at a time for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour day with normal breaks. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery. The claimant can perform work that does not involve more than occasional or superficial contact with the general public or crowded work settings. The claimant can work and interact with small groups of co-workers, but no work requiring close cooperation with co-workers (e.g., no teamwork-type work activities). He would do best where there is no close supervision where the supervisor lays out job instructions with occasional supervision thereafter (e.g., no over the shoulder frequent type supervision). Although the claimant takes prescribed medication for physical and mental symptomology, despite any side effects of the medication, the claimant would be able to remain reasonably attentive and responsive in a work setting and would be able to carry out normal work assignments satisfactorily.

Tr. 21.

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 26. At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as dining room attendant; laundry worker; store laborer; housekeeping cleaning; cafeteria attendant; and price marker. Tr. 27. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 28, 2008, through the date of the decision. Tr. 27.

         On March 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, Tr. 1-7, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481, 422.210.

         ISSUES

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision denying him supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. ECF No. 14. Plaintiff raises the following issues for this Court’s review:

1. Whether the ALJ properly discredited Plaintiff’s symptom claims;
2. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion evidence;
3. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the lay witness testimony; and
4. Whether this Court should consider new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council.[2]

ECF No. 14 at 12.

         A. Adverse ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.