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Naish v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 6, 2018

SCOTT ALAN NAISH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN T. RODGERS, JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 15, 19. Attorney Dana C. Madsen represents Scott Alan Naish (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. 7. 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).

         JURISDICTION

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on July 29, 2015, Tr. 72, and an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on May 22, 2015, Tr. 60. In the applications, Plaintiff alleged disability since June 8, 2015, Tr. 171, 178, due to psychotic disorder, social anxiety, and fibromyalgia, Tr. 196. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 114-17, 120-25. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palachuk held a hearing on September 7, 2016 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, psychological expert, Donna Mary Veraldi, Ph.D., and vocational expert, K. Diane Kramer. Tr. 29-59. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 14, 2016. Tr. 14-23. The Appeals Council denied review on November 25, 2016. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's October 14, 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 January 23, 2017. ECF Nos. 1, 4.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The 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.

         Plaintiff was 43 years old at the alleged date of onset provided on his application. Tr. 178. He completed an associates in paralegal studies in March of 2005. Tr. 197, 296. His reported work history includes the jobs of gas station attendant/manager, auditor, customer care representative, production worker, coder, and administrative assistant. Tr. 198, 207, 229. He alleged that a psychotic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and fibromyalgia limited his ability to work. Tr. 196. Plaintiff reported that he stopped working on June 8, 2015 due to his conditions and because the work was seasonal. Id.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The ALJ 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. 1988).

         SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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, 140-42 (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. §§ 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 which the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (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), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On October 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 22, 2015.F[1] Tr. 16.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; psychosis, not otherwise ...


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