United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 16, 22
Van Sickle Senior United States District Judge.
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 16, 22. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. Plaintiff was
represented by attorney Howard Olinsky. Defendant was
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney L.
Jamala Edwards. The Court, having reviewed the administrative
record and the parties' briefing, is fully informed. For
the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion, ECF No.
16, is granted and Defendant's Motion, ECF No. 22, is
Oleta Matthews protectively filed for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) on July 31, 2012. Tr. 266-76, 319.
Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2010. Tr. 266,
273. Benefits were denied initially (Tr. 169-72) and upon
reconsideration (Tr. 183-84). Plaintiff appeared at a hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on June 18, 2014.
Tr. 42-83. On November 21, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs
claim (Tr. 24-33), and the Appeals Council denied review. Tr.
1. The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).
facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing
and transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of
Plaintiff and the Commissioner, and are therefore only
Matthews (“Plaintiff) was 60 years old at the time of
the hearing. Tr. 42. She went to school through the ninth
grade. Tr. 42. She was in special education most of her life.
Tr. 61. She lives with a number of family members. Tr. 65.
Her work history includes: home attendant, janitor, laundry
worker, nurse assistant, and child monitor. Tr. 49. She last
worked as a babysitter for her niece. Tr. 50.
testified she has pain on her left side from her neck to her
shoulder and in her middle back, lower back, and on the ball
of her left foot. Tr. 52, 55-56. She also has pain in her
right hand. Tr. 52-53. She testified pain limits her ability
to throw, pull, grip, and reach. Tr. 52-53, 56. She can stand
or sit for about 10 minutes at a time. Tr. 53, 64. She spends
almost half the day reclining. Tr. 54. She has hepatitis C.
Tr. 52. Plaintiff uses inhalers a few times per week for
COPD. Tr. 56. She experiences shortness of breath upon
standing. Tr. 57. She can walk about a block and a half to
two blocks. Tr. 57.
experiences depression, though medication has helped. Tr. 56,
63. She has anxiety when she is around people. Tr. 57-58. She
has quit jobs in the past due to arguments with coworkers.
Tr. 59-60. She has difficulty focusing while reading and
doing chores. Tr. 60-61.
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).
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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);
416.920(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389
(9th Cir. 2012).
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 1, 2010, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 26. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance addiction
disorder. Tr. 26. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
does not have an impairment or combination ...