United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND
S. LASNIK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lula Williams appeals the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), which denied her application
for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-83f, after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 49-year-old woman with a high school education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 236, 241. Her
past work experience was as a cashier and a security guard.
AR at 242. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in August of
2007. AR at 241.
filed an application for SSI on August 1, 2013. AR at 53.
Plaintiff asserted that she was disabled due to rheumatoid
arthritis, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. AR
Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 53. Plaintiff requested a hearing,
which took place on December 18, 2014. Id. On July
27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff
was not disabled based on her finding that plaintiff could
perform work available in significant numbers in the national
economy. AR at 53-66. Plaintiff's request for review by
the Appeals Council was denied on November 8, 2016 (AR at
1-6), making the ALJ's ruling the “final
decision” of the Commissioner as that term is defined
by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On December 23, 2016, plaintiff
timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. No. 3.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and 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); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
claimant, Ms. Williams bears the burden of proving that she
is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d
1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The Act defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity” due to a physical or mental impairment which
has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
A claimant is disabled under the Act only if her impairments
are of such severity that she is unable to do her previous
work, and cannot, considering her age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other substantial gainful activity
existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d
1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof
during steps one through four. At step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a claimant is
found to be disabled at any step in the sequence, the inquiry
ends without the need to consider subsequent steps. Step one
asks whether the claimant is presently engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(b). If she is, disability benefits are denied.
If she is not, the Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step
two, the claimant must establish that she has one or more
medically severe impairments, or combination of impairments,
that limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. If the claimant does not have such impairments,
she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If the
claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets
or equals any of the listed impairments described in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). A claimant whose
impairment meets or equals one of the listings for the
required 12-month duration requirement is disabled.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the
physical and mental demands of the claimant's past
relevant work to determine whether she can still perform that
work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to
perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; if the
opposite is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at step five to show that the claimant can perform other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy,
taking into consideration the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g);
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the Commissioner
finds the claimant is unable to perform other work, then the
claimant is found disabled and benefits may be awarded.
7, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding the following:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 1, 2013, the application date (20