United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 14, 16
K. DIMKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 16. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 9. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 14) and
grants Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 16).
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
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.
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). 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).
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).
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).
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).
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. §§
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.
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.
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);
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).
finding of ‘disabled' under the five-step inquiry
does not automatically qualify a claimant for disability
benefits.” Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746
(9th Cir. 2007) (citing Bustamante v. Massanari, 262
F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001)). When there is medical
evidence of drug or alcohol addiction, the ALJ must determine
whether the drug or alcohol addiction is a material factor
contributing to the disability. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1535(a), 416.935(a). In order to determine whether drug
or alcohol addiction is a material factor contributing to the
disability, the ALJ must evaluate which of the current
physical and mental limitations would remain if the claimant
stopped using drugs or alcohol, then determine whether any or
all of the remaining limitations would be disabling. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b)(2), 416.935(b)(2). If the
remaining limitations would not be disabling, drug or alcohol
addiction is a contributing factor material to the
determination of disability. Id. If the remaining
limitations would be disabling, the claimant is disabled
independent of the drug or alcohol addiction and the
addiction is not a contributing factor material to
disability. Id. Plaintiff has the burden of showing
that drug and alcohol addiction is not a contributing factor
material to disability. Parra, 481 F.3d at 748.
applied for supplemental security income benefits and
disability insurance benefits on May 30, 2012. Tr. 144-51. He
alleged an onset date of October 10, 2007, Tr. 144-51, which
was subsequently amended to December 1, 2009. Tr. 43-44. The
applications were denied initially, Tr. 96-104, and on
reconsideration, Tr. 108-15. Plaintiff appeared at a hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on January 10, 2014.
Tr. 37-59. On January 23, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 10-36.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 1, 2012. Tr. 16. At step two,
the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
polysubstance dependence; cognitive disorder; borderline
intellectual functioning; depressive disorder; and a history
of carpal tunnel syndrome, status-post bilateral releases.
Tr. 16. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
impairments, including substance use disorder, meet Medical
Listings 12.02, 12.04, and 12.09. Tr. 17. The ALJ found that
if Plaintiff stopped substance use, his impairments would be
severe but would not meet or medically equal the requirements
of any listed impairment. Tr. 23-24. The ALJ found that if
Plaintiff stopped substance abuse, he would have the RFC to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant would be limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks that did not require the need to make
judgments on complex work-related decisions. The claimant
would work best with only superficial contact with the
general public but could have occasional interaction with
coworkers and supervisors. The claimant would need additional
time to respond to changes in a routine work setting.
four, the ALJ found that if Plaintiff stopped substance use,
he would be unable to perform his past relevant work. Tr. 25.
At step five, considering Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded there are jobs in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform, such as agricultural produce sorter, cannery
worker, blender-tank tender helper, and assembler. Tr. 31.
The ALJ found substance abuse disorder is thus a contributing
factor material to the disability determination. Tr. 31. On
that basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled
as defined by the Act because substance abuse renders him
ineligible for benefits. Tr. 31-32.
April 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. §§ 404.981,
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying him disability insurance benefits under
Title II and supplement security income under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act. ECF No. 14. Plaintiff raises the
following issues for review:
1. Whether the ALJ properly considered Listing 12.05C;
2. Whether the ALJ properly found Plaintiff's ankle
impairment as non-severe at step two;
3. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion
4. Whether the ALJ properly weighed Plaintiff's symptom
5. Whether the ALJ's step five findings are supported by