Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tower v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

November 27, 2017

DOMINO L. TOWER, Plaintiff,



         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 14, 16. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Domino L. Tower (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Danielle R. Mroczek represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on March 13, 2009, Tr. 505, alleging disability since December 5, 2006, Tr. 438, 440, due to back problems, shoulder problems, a brain cyst, memory issues, and pain in the elbows. Tr. 511. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 229-32, 237-41. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) R.J. Payne held a hearing on July 8, 2010 and heard testimony from Plaintiff and medical expert, Arthur Lorber, M.D. Tr. 42-60. The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on September 30, 2010 and heard testimony from Plaintiff and Ronald Klein, Ph.D. Tr. 61-94. The ALJ issued an decision on October 21, 2010 finding Plaintiff disabled from December 5, 2006 through December 31, 2007 and not disabled starting January 1, 2008. Tr. 170-85. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded the claim for additional proceedings regarding the issue of disability after December 31, 2007. Tr. 193-96. The ALJ held a second hearing on July 31, 2012 and heard testimony from Plaintiff and vocational expert, Daniel McKinney. Tr. 95-109. The ALJ issued a new decision on August 30, 2012 finding that Plaintiff's disability had ended as of January 1, 2008. Tr. 200-16. The Appeals Council again granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded the case for further proceedings to address disability after January 1, 2008. Tr. 224-28. The ALJ held two additional hearings on November 7, 2014 and June 29, 2015 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, medical expert, Robert C. Thompson, M.D., and vocational expert, Diane Kramer. Tr. 110-162. The ALJ issued a third decision on July 24, 2015 finding Plaintiff had not been under a disability since January 1, 2008. Tr. 21-31. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 27, 2016. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's July 24, 2015 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on November 22, 2016. ECF No. 1, 4.


         The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcript, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of the parties. They are only briefly summarized here.

         Plaintiff was 45 years old on January 1, 2008. Tr. 438. Plaintiff had completed some college. Tr. 518. He reported that he last worked in December 2006 and stopped working because of his conditions. Tr. 511. His reported work history includes the positions of herdsman, horticulturist, and laborer. Tr. 512


         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court reviews the ALJ's determinations of law de novo, deferring to a reasonable interpretation of the statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence 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). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097. If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either disability or non-disability, the ALJ's determination is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence will 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. 1988).


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99. This burden is met once the claimant establishes that physical or mental impairments prevent him from engaging in his previous occupations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). If the claimant cannot do his past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, and (2) specific jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2004). If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, a finding of “disabled” is made. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).


         On July 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act as of January 1, 2008.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008. Tr. 24.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairment of degenerative disk disease. Tr. 24.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 24.

         At step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual function capacity and determined he could perform a range of light work with the following limitations:

the claimant can sit for two hour [sic.] at a time for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday with normal breaks. He can stand and walk 1 hour at a time and 3 hours each, in any combination, in an 8 hour workday with normal breaks. He can lift and carry 11-20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently. He can occasionally climb stairs and ramps and never climb ladders or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch, and never crawl. The claimant should avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, and heavy industrial-type machinery. The claimant has physical symptomatology, to include pain and he takes prescription medication for this symptomatology. However, despite the level of pain and/or any side effects of the medicine, the claimant would be able to remain reasonably attentive and responsive in a work setting and would be able to carry out normal work assignments satisfactorily.

Tr. 25. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's past relevant work as laminator-assembler, laborer/landscaper, and construction worker I and concluded that Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work. Tr. 29-30.

         At step five, the ALJ determined that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, and based on the testimony of the vocational expert, there were other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform, including the jobs of small parts assembler, parking lot attendant, electronical assembler, and sorter. Tr. 30-31. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability within the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.