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, 25. Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents Lafe
Edward Daugherty (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States
Attorney Summer Stinson 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 November 22, 2013, Tr.
75, alleging disability since January 1, 2008, Tr. 167, 173,
due to seizures, depression, a back injury, epilepsy, and
polymicrogyria. Tr. 214. The applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 102-09, 113-23.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Donna L. Walker held a hearing
on January 20, 2016 and heard testimony from Plaintiff,
medical expert, Ronald Devere, M.D., and vocational expert,
Richard Cheney. Tr. 39-74. At the hearing, the ALJ granted
Plaintiff's motion to withdraw his Request for Hearing on
the DIB claim. Tr. 41-42. The DIB claim was dismissed and the
hearing continued as an SSI only claim with an application
date of November 22, 2013. Id. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on February 8, 2016. Tr. 23-24. The
Appeals Council denied review on September 28, 2016. Tr. 1-7.
The ALJ's February 8, 2016 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 21, 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 39 years old at the date of application. Tr. 167. He
completed the twelfth grade in 1992. Tr. 215. His reported
work history includes the jobs of inspector and machine
operator. Tr. 197, 215. Plaintiff reported that he stopped
working on January 1, 2008 due to his conditions. Tr. 214.
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.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a); see Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (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. § 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 which the claimant can perform exist in the
national economy. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
February 8, 2016, 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 January 3, 1999, the original alleged
date of onset. Tr. 25.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had a severe impairment of
“history of a seizure disorder.” Tr. 25.
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. 28.
four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual function
capacity and determined he could perform a range of work at
the medium exertional level with the following limitations:
the ability to lift and/or carry up to 50 pounds occasionally
(1/3 of the workday) and 25 pounds frequently (2/3 of the
workday); stand and/or walk up to 6 hours; and sit up to 6
hours. He has an unlimited ability to use bilateral upper
extremities for pushing and pulling (other than as stated for
lifting and carrying); unlimited ability to reach in all
directions, including overhead bilaterally; unlimited use of
bilateral hands for handling (gross manipulation), fingering
(fine manipulation), and feeling (skin receptors); unlimited
postural ability to balance, stoop (including bending at the
waist), kneel or crouch (including bending at the knees) and
frequently climb ramps, stairs, or crawl but never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; unlimited visual and
communicative abilities; unlimited environmental exposure to
exposure to [sic.] extreme cold, extreme heat,
wetness, humidity, noise, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, or poor
ventilation but should avoid concentrated exposure to
vibration and hazards (such as machinery and heights). He can
have superficial contact with the general public, could work
in proximity to but not close cooperation with co-workers and
supervisors, and would work best in a job with routine
predictable tasks with clearly set goals and expectation.
Tr. 28-29. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have past
relevant work. Tr. 32.
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 pile setter, store laborer, and janitor.
Tr. 33. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a
disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at
any time from January 3, 1999, through the date of the
ALJ's decision. Tr. 33.
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 make a proper step
two determination, (2) failing to make a proper step three
determination, (3) failing to properly weigh Plaintiff's
symptom statements, and (4) failing to properly weigh the
medical opinions in the record.
challenges the ALJ's step two determination alleging that
she erred by finding Plaintiff's mental health
impairments and back/lumbar ...