United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 16, 17
K. DIMKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 16, 17. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiffs Motion (ECF No. 16) and grants
Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 17).
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).
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.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). 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).
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 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c)(2);
416.960(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389
(9th Cir. 2012).
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits on April 25, 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of August 7, 2010. Tr. 294-95; Tr.
296-302; Tr. 47. Benefits were denied initially, Tr. 188-91,
and upon reconsideration. Tr. 197-201. Plaintiff appeared for
a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on July
12, 2013. Tr. 44-84; Tr. 209-10. Medical expert Margaret
Moore, Ph.D. testified. Tr. 44. On July 25 2013, the ALJ
denied Plaintiffs claim. Tr. 162-82. On November 25, 2014,
the Appeals Council vacated the hearing decision and remanded
for further proceedings. Tr. 183-87. The Appeals Council
directed the ALJ to give further consideration to the
opinions of Plaintiff s treating physician (Kingsley C.
Ugorji, M.D.) and whether the Plaintiff medically requires
the use of an assistance device for balance, standing, and/or
ambulation, and, if necessary, obtain further medical expert
and vocational testimony. Tr. 184-85. Another administrative
hearing was held on May 1, 2015 before a different ALJ.
Medical expert Darius Ghazi, M.D. and vocational expert
Daniel McKinney testified. Tr. 85. On May 29, 2015, the ALJ
denied Plaintiffs applications. Tr. 17-43.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since August 7, 2010. Tr. 23. At step two,
the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the lumbar spine, allergic
rhinitis, obesity, depression, and anxiety. Tr. 23. At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. Tr. 23.
The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform
a “full range of light work, ” except:
he can stand and/or walk for only four hours in a normal
8-hour workday; he would have no use of his right upper
extremity (RUE) while walking because of his need for a cane;
he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could
only perform occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching,
crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs; he must avoid all
exposure to unprotected heights and concentrated exposure to
pulmonary irritants; and he is capable of no more than
semi-skilled tasks with brief superficial contact with the
At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform
any past relevant work. Tr. 36. At step five, the ALJ found
that considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there are other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff can
perform such as production assembler, electronic worker, and
garment sorter. Tr. 36-37. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff has
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, since August 7, 2010 through the date of the
decision. Tr. 37.
September 26, 2016, the Appeals Counsel denied review, Tr.
1-6, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision for purposes of judicial review. See
42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481,
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying him disability insurance benefits under
Title II and supplemental security income benefits under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act. ECF No. 16. Plaintiff
raises the following issues for this Court's review:
1. Whether the ALJ properly weighed Plaintiffs symptom
2. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion