United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment.
ECF Nos. 15, 19. Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents Justin
James Baugh (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States
Attorney Daphne Banay 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 the briefs filed by the parties,
the Court GRANTS, in part, Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment; DENIES
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and
REMANDS the matter to the Commissioner for
additional proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on September 5, 2012, Tr.
174, alleging disability since June 30, 2010, Tr. 154-61, due
to mental health issues, acid reflux, and anxiety. Tr. 177.
The applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Tr. 104-10, 113-19. Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) Moira Ausems held a hearing on February 3, 2015 and
heard testimony from Plaintiff and vocational expert, Diane
Kramer. Tr. 42-72. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
May 4, 2015. Tr. 20-31. The Appeals Council denied review on
August 3, 2016. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's May 4, 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
September 30, 2016. ECF Nos. 1, 4.
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.
was 36 years old at the alleged date of onset. Tr. 154. He
completed the twelfth grade in 1993, Tr. 178, and completed
one quarter of community college, Tr. 55. His reported work
history includes the positions of general laborer and
dishwasher. Tr. 48-50, 178. At filing, Plaintiff reported
that he stopped working in May of 2012 due to his conditions.
Tr. 177. However, at the hearing, Plaintiff testified that
his work in 2012 was actually a work assessment arranged by
the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and, that following
the assessment, he withdrew from the program. Tr. 47-48.
Prior to the 2012 work assessment, Plaintiff was engaged in
temporary work in 2010. Tr. 48-49.
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, 1229-1230 (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).
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 1098-1099.
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, 1193-1194 (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),
4, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not
disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since June 30, 2010, the alleged date of
onset. Tr. 22.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: major depressive disorder; panic disorder with
agoraphobia; generalized anxiety disorder; methamphetamine,
benzodiazepine, and alcohol dependence in reported remission;
tachycardia; hypothyroidism; obesity; and left carpal tunnel
syndrome. Tr. 22.
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. 23.
four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual function
capacity and determined he could perform a range of light
work with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant can occasionally lift and carry up to 20
pounds and frequently lift and carry up to 10 pounds. He can
stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and sit
for 6 hours in an 8-hour day. No more than occasional
crawling and no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
avoid concentrated exposure to industrial vibration; no
exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous moving
machinery; no commercial driving; no more than lower
semiskilled (SVP-3) tasks; no more than brief superficial
interaction with the general public; and no cooperative
teamwork endeavors with coworkers.
Tr. 24-25. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's past relevant
work as heating and air conditioning helper, laborer, and
kitchen helper and concluded that Plaintiff was not able to
perform this past relevant work. Tr. 29.
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 office cleaner I, electrical assembler,
and production assembler. Tr. 30. The ALJ thus concluded
Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act at any time from June 30, 2010
through the date of the ALJ's decision, May 4, 2015.
question presented is whether substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's decision denying benefits and, if so, whether
that decision is based on proper legal standards. Plaintiff
contends the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly consider
Plaintiff's symptom ...