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Lesher v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 5, 2018

TERRY M. LESHER, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court, without oral argument, are cross-summary-judgment motions. ECF Nos. 18 & 20. Plaintiff Terry M. Lesher appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of benefits. ECF No. 3. Mr. Lesher contends the ALJ improperly (1) rejected the opinion of Mr. Lesher's treating physician; (2) discredited Mr. Lesher's VA disability rating; (3) rejected Mr. Lesher's subjective complaints; and (4) determined Mr. Lesher had the ability to perform other work in the national economy. The Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) asks the Court to affirm the ALJ's decision.

         After reviewing the record and relevant authority, the Court is fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision and therefore denies Mr. Lesher's motion and grants the Commissioner's motion.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS [1]

         During the relevant period, Mr. Lesher suffered from several impairments including: fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the right ankle, right wrist/forearm fracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, and sleep apnea treated with a CPAP. Mr. Lesher saw a number of providers for treatment of his conditions. Tr. 801. Mr. Lesher alleged that as a result of his conditions he was unable to engage in most activities and lived a generally sedentary lifestyle limited to sitting at home, reading, and watching television. Tr. 81-82. However, Mr. Lesher did occasionally drive and grocery shop for himself. Tr. 77-78. Mr. Lesher is a retired veteran with twenty years' service in the United States Airforce. Tr. 74. When he retired in 2007, he was working as a shift supervisor for the kitchen. Id.


         Mr. Lesher filed an application for disability insurance benefits on January 21, 2014, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2007. Tr. 185-86. Mr. Lesher's application for benefits was disapproved by the Social Security Administration on March 27, 2014, and the agency denied reconsideration on September 9, 2014. Tr. 102-15. Mr. Lesher appealed to the Office of Disability and Adjudication Review and, following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), issued a decision denying benefits on March 25, 2015. Tr. 11-32. Mr. Lesher subsequently appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied review. Tr. 1-10. Mr. Lesher filed an appeal in this district on September 30, 2015. ECF No. 3.


         A “disability” is defined as the “inability 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). The decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

         Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past by examining the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth step.

         Step five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant cannot, the disability claim is granted.

         The burden of proof shifts during this sequential disability analysis. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show (1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity, and (2) that a “significant number of jobs exist in the national economy, ” which the claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1984). A claimant is disabled only if his impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         IV. ...

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