United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, INTER ALIA
R. SUKO Senior United States District Judge
THE COURT are the Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 15) and the Defendant's Motion For Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 20).
Lynn Darling, Plaintiff, applied for Title XVI Supplemental
Security Income benefits (SSI) on September 17, 2012. The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Plaintiff timely requested a hearing which was held on
November 20, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Donna L. Walker. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, as did
Medical Expert (ME) Marian S. Martin, Ph.D., and Vocational
Expert (VE) Carly Coughlin. On January 29, 2015, 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).
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 her application for SSI benefits, Plaintiff was
20 years old, and at the time of the administrative hearing,
she was 23 years old. She has a high school education and no
past relevant work experience.
[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).
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).
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).
argues the ALJ erred in: 1) rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
testimony; 2) failing to properly consider and weigh medical
opinion evidence; and 3) failing to determine that Plaintiff
has a severe medically determinable impairment meeting
Listing 12.05C in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1.
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. §
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
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 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. §
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. § 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. §
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. § 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
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).
found the following:
1) Plaintiff has “severe” medical impairments,
those being developmental language disorder, borderline
intellectual functioning, depression and social anxiety;
2) Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal any of
the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpart P,
3) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but
with the following nonexertional limitations: she has the
ability to engage in entry level, unskilled work; remember
locations and worklike procedures; understand and remember
short and simple verbal instructions; carry out short and
simple verbal instructions; would work best in jobs taught by
demonstration, rather than by written instructions; perform
activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance,
and be punctual within customary tolerances; sustain an
ordinary routine without special supervision work in
proximity to, but not in close cooperation with others; make
simple work-related decisions; complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based
symptoms and perform at a consistent pace without an
unreasonable number and length of rest periods; ask simple
questions or request assistance; accept instructions and
respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; get
along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or
exhibiting behavioral extremes; maintain socially appropriate
behavior and adhere to basic standards or neatness and
cleanliness; respond to normal changes in the work setting;
be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions;
travel in unfamiliar places or use public transportation; set
realistic goals or make plans independently of others; and
would work best in jobs with no public contact; and
4) Plaintiff's RFC allows her to perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy as identified by
the VE, including hand packager, production assembler and
the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff is not disabled.
settled law in the Ninth Circuit that in a disability
proceeding, the opinion of a licensed treating or examining
physician or psychologist is given special weight because of
his/her familiarity with the claimant and his/her condition.
If the treating or examining physician's or
psychologist's opinion is not contradicted, it can be
rejected only for clear and convincing reasons. Reddick
v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998);
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th
Cir. 1996). If contradicted, the ALJ may reject the opinion
if specific, legitimate reasons that are supported by
substantial evidence are given. Id. “[W]hen
evaluating conflicting medical opinions, an ALJ need not
accept the opinion of a doctor if that opinion is brief,
conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical
findings.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211,
1216 (9th Cir. 2005).
underwent a psychological assessment by Gerald Gardner,
Ph.D., on November 13, 2012. This was a consultative
examination performed upon referral by the State of Idaho
Disability Determination Services. Plaintiff denied any
history of psychiatric treatment. She indicated she had
depressed moods, but had never discussed that with a doctor
and had never been on medicine for her moods. (AR at p. 279).
She indicated she had never been “seriously
suicidal.” Currently, her mood was good and she stated
she was not usually down or depressed. She denied feelings of
helplessness or hopelessness. She indicated she gets nervous
around people and suggested she would avoid talking to retail
clerks. Plaintiff said her sleep was good, that her energy
level depends on the day, that sometimes she was able to
focus and get things done and that “[o]ther times, she
gets bored with housekeeping and does not have motivation for
that.” She told Dr. Gardner she had no problems with
grooming or hygiene and that “[s]he cooks
occasionally[, ] but has difficulty reading recipes so [her
boyfriend] does most of the cooking, ” while
“[s]he is largely limited to [T]op Ramen and
sandwiches.” She indicated that “[s]he knows how
to do all the basic housecleaning chores[, ] but sometimes
lacks motivation.” Plaintiff has never had a
driver's license and indicated she did not take
driver's education due to lack of income. She told the
doctor she will occasionally go places by herself and will
take the bus to the library or to Wal-Mart. Plaintiff opined
that she was careful with money and believes she ensures she
receives the correct change. (AR at p. 280).
informed Dr. Gardner that she was in special education all of
her life, was in speech therapy from kindergarten through the
sixth grade, and graduated from the special education program
at her high school. She indicated she had a few friends and
hung out with the kids she met in special education classes.