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Lashbrook v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 12, 2017

JAIME NOEL LASHBROOK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, INTER ALIA

          LONNY R. SUKO, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT are the Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) and the Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22).

         JURISDICTION

         Jaime Noel Lashbrook, Plaintiff, applied for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) on May 11, 2012. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing which was held on September 23, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Moira Ausems. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, as did Vocational Expert (VE) K. Diane Kramer. On February 11, 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).

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The 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 27 years old, and at the time of the administrative hearing, she was 30 years old. She has a high school education and no past relevant work experience.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The [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).

         It is 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).

         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. 1987).

         ISSUES

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in: 1) failing to find at step two that Plaintiff has a “severe” personality disorder; 2) rejecting Plaintiff's symptom testimony; and 3) failing to properly consider and weigh medical opinion evidence.

         DISCUSSION

         SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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 economy. Id.

         The 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).

         The 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).

         ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ found the following:

1) Plaintiff has “severe” medical impairments, those being polysubstance abuse in early remission; mixed adjustment disorder; and mild degenerative spondylosis with mild dextroconvex curvature of the lumbar spine;
2) Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpart P, App. 1;
3) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §416.967(b) in that she is able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she is able to stand and walk six hours in an eight hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight hour workday; she is not able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can have no exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, or commercial driving; she can perform simple and routine tasks and no more than lower semiskilled (SVP-3[1]) tasks; she can have brief ...

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