United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment.
ECF No. 14, 16. Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents Matthew
Adam Coumont (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States
Attorney Richard M. Rodriguez 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 the briefs filed by the
parties, the Court GRANTS, in part,
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment;
DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment; and REMANDS the matter to the
Commissioner for additional proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
on June 7, 2012, Tr. 159, alleging disability since May 1,
2010, Tr. 144, due to neuropathy in his legs and deafness in
his right ear. Tr. 163. The application was denied initially
and upon reconsideration. Tr. 92-95, 102-105. Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) Donna L. Walker held a hearing on December
11, 2014 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, medical experts,
Thomas McKnight, Ph.D. and James M. Haynes, M.D., and
vocational expert, Thomas A. Polsin. Tr. 29-71. The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on February 4, 2015. Tr.
11-25. The Appeals Council denied review on April 27, 2016.
Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's February 4, 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 June 21,
2016. ECF No. 1, 4.
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.
was 42 years old at the date of application. Tr. 144. He
completed the twelfth grade in 1988. Tr. 164. He reported
upon application that he last worked in October of 2011 and
stopped working due to his conditions. Tr. 163. His work
history includes the job of carpenter/construction worker.
Tr. 164, 179.
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 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. 1988).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
February 4, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since June 7, 2014, the date of application.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairment
of bilateral lower extremity peripheral neuropathy, secondary
to possible acute alcohol abuse. Tr. 14.
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. 17.
four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual function
capacity and determined he could perform a range of light
work with the following limitations:
The claimant can lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk up to six hours
in an eight hour day, and sit without limitation. The
claimant has unlimited ability to push or pull
notwithstanding his limitations in lifting and carrying. The
claimant can frequently climb ramps and stairs, never climb
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, but has no manipulative or
visual limitations. The claimant should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, vibration, hazards such as
machinery and heights, and even moderate exposure to noise.
The claimant has unlimited ability to work in an environment
with heat, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor
Tr. 18. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's past relevant work
as construction worker and concluded that Plaintiff was not
able to perform this work. Tr. 23.
five, the ALJ determined that, considering Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience and residual functional
capacity, and based on the testimony of the vocational
expert, there were other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform,
including the jobs of airline security representative,
mailroom clerk, and storage rental clerk. Tr. 24. The ALJ
concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the date
of application, June 7, 2012, through the date of the
ALJ's decision, February 4, 2015. Tr. 25.
question presented is whether substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's decision denying benefits and, if so, whether
that decision is based on proper legal standards. Plaintiff
contends the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly weigh and
consider the medical opinions in the record, (2) failing to
find that Plaintiff's mental health impairments were
severe at step two, (3) failing to properly ...