United States District Court, E.D. Washington
JOANNA J. CLARK, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 14, 15
Van Sickle, Senior United States District Judge.
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 15. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. Plaintiff was
represented by attorney Dana Madsen. Defendant was
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney
Daphne Banay. The Court, having reviewed the administrative
record and the parties' briefing, is fully informed. For
the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs Motion, ECF No. 14,
is denied and Defendant's Motion, ECF No. 15, is granted.
Joanna J. Clark protectively filed for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) on September 5, 2012. Tr. 147-55, 193.
Plaintiff alleged an onset date of December 31, 2004. Tr.
147, 152. Benefits were denied initially (Tr. 105-11) and
upon reconsideration (Tr. 117-20). Plaintiff appeared at a
hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on December
2, 2014. Tr. 34-61. On January 9, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff s claim (Tr. 12-27), 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
J. Clark (“Plaintiff) was 49 years old at the time of
the hearing. Tr. 50. She graduated from high school and
attended a “little bit” of college. Tr. 36, 50.
She has spent most of her working life doing part-time jobs
such as waitress and convenience store clerk. Tr. 36, 48. She
testified that she has lost jobs because she cannot
concentrate, does not comprehend well, and does not get along
well with other people. Tr. 41. She last worked as a baker.
Tr. 39. She was fired from the bakery because she asked the
same questions over and over and had to stand for too long.
Tr. 48. She has not attempted to get a job since 2013 because
she “can't concentrate that well” and has
“really bad back pain.” Tr. 40.
back pain originated with a motor vehicle accident in August
2013, although she alleged at the hearing that she also
suffers from scoliosis and that her back pain started
“a couple years ago.” Tr. 41-42. If she stands
too long, there is a burning sensation in the middle of her
back and her leg goes numb. Tr. 42. Her right hip feels like
it's going to give out. Tr. 43-44. She cannot do chores
because her back hurts. Tr. 44. Plaintiff testified she also
has headaches which are improved with medication and rest.
testified her mental health problems involve anxiety and mood
swings. Tr. 46. She cannot sleep sometimes due to anxiety.
Tr. 45. Her moods change frequently from happy to down and
depressed within ten to 15 minutes. Tr. 47. She does not like
being around people and experiences anxiety when going to a
store. Tr. 47.
has a history of substance abuse, but testified that she had
not used cocaine in over a year. Tr. 39. The last time she
used was a week-long relapse. Tr. 46. She testified that
before the relapse, she had been clean for a couple of years
after treatment. Tr. 46.
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. 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 ...