United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Karen Palmer appeals the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33,
after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 57-year-old woman with a high school diploma and
vocational training in medical terminology. Administrative
Record (“AR”) at 289. Her past work experience
includes employment as a church secretary, medical records
clerk, and receptionist. Id. Plaintiff was last
gainfully employed in September 2011. Id.
April 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging
an onset date of September 2, 2011. AR at 268-71. Plaintiff
asserts that she is disabled due to lymphedema, anxiety, and
depression. AR at 288.
Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 168-74, 177-81. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on January 14, 2015; April 6, 2015;
and August 10, 2015. AR at 45-117. On September 18, 2015, the
ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and
denied benefits based on his finding that she could perform
her past work as a receptionist, as well as other specific
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
AR at 20-33. Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the
ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, 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 April 3, 2017, Plaintiff
timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 1, 11.
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(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. Palmer 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) (internal citations omitted). 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 twelve months. 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 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. §§ 404.1520, 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. §§ 404.1520(b), 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. §§ 404.1520(c), 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the
listings for the required twelve-month duration requirement
is disabled. Id.
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.
§§ 404.1520(e), 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. §§
404.1520(f), 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. §§ 404.1520(g),
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
September 18, 2015, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2012, the amended alleged onset
3. The claimant's right arm lymphedema, Morton's
neuroma, and insomnia are severe impairments.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1.
5. The claimant has the RFC to perform light work, as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), that does not require
lifting or carrying of more than 10 pounds occasionally with
the right (dominant) upper extremity; that does not require
standing or walking more than 30 minutes at a time or two
hours in an eight-hour workday; that does not require
performing repetitive motions for more than two minutes at a
time with the right hand; that does not require consistent
pushing or pulling with the right arm; that does not require
more than occasional overhead reaching with the right upper
extremity; that does not require more than occasional
crawling or climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; that
does not require more than frequent climbing of ramps or
stairs; that does not require exposure to hazards such as
open machinery or unprotected heights; and that does not
require concentrated exposure to extreme heat.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a receptionist, as well as other representative
occupations, including furniture rental ...