United States District Court, E.D. Washington
SHAWN L. STEVENS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment.
ECF No. 13, 14. Attorney Gary R. Penar represents Shawn L.
Stevens (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney
Jeffrey Eric Staples 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 briefs filed by the parties, the
Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment.
March 20, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for
disability insurance benefits and social security disability
benefits, alleging disability since January 9, 2013, due to a
car accident and brain injury. Tr. 201, 208, 232.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon
Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palachuk held a hearing on June 24,
2015, Tr. 36-74, and issued an unfavorable decision on July
17, 2015, Tr. 11-24. The Appeals Council denied review on
December 16, 2016. Tr. 1-5. The ALJ's July 2015 decision
thus 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
February 15, 2017. ECF No. 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 born on September 10, 1983, and was 29 years old on the
alleged onset date, January 9, 2013. Tr. 201. He had
completed one year of college. Tr. 233. Plaintiff's
disability report indicates he stopped working on March 31,
2013, because he “was laid off.” Tr. 232. He
reported to a medical examiner he was terminated from this
job for interpersonal problems. Tr. 383.
testified at the June 2015 administrative hearing that he has
memory issues that prevent him from effectively grocery
shopping, his forgetfulness restricts his ability to manage
money, and he does not perform any chores in the home. Tr.
64-65. He stated he just sits in his chair most of the day.
indicated he has to constantly change positions in his chair
due to back pain. Tr. 67. As a result of the back pain, he is
not able to tie his shoes and needs help with dressing his
lower half. Tr. 67. He testified he would take scalding hot
baths for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by a cold bath, three to
four times a day, to treat the back pain. Tr. 66-67.
Plaintiff stated he also experiences three to five migraine
headaches per month that last between 15 minutes and all day.
Tr. 68. He lies in a quiet, dark room to relieve the headache
symptoms. Tr. 68.
testified he can only sit “a couple of minutes”
before needing to change positions, can stand for two to
three minutes before needing to sit or lie down, is able to
walk only about 20 to 30 feet at one time, and is unable to
lift a gallon of milk. Tr. 68-69.
has three children, ages seven, six and three at the time of
the administrative hearing, and his live-in brother-in-law
helped care for the children. Tr. 65-66. Plaintiff stated his
role with the children is primarily just playing with them.
Tr. 66. He testified he does get up with his children in the
morning and drive them about a half a block to their bus stop
for school and is there to say goodnight to his children at
night. Tr. 69.
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 ALJ's determinations of law are reviewed
de novo, with deference to a reasonable
interpretation of the applicable 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; Morgan v.
Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599
(9th Cir. 1999). 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, 1229-1230 (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).
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, 140-142 (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 1098-1099. This
burden is met once a claimant establishes that physical or
mental impairments prevent him from engaging in his previous
occupation. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If a 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 claimant can perform exist in the
national economy. Batson v. Commissioner of Social Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (2004). If a 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).
17, 2015, 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 the alleged onset date, January 9,
2013. Tr. 13. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: lower back pain with small
disc protrusion, history of minor concussions, mood disorder
not otherwise specified (NOS), and possible personality
disorder. Tr. 13. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did
not have an ...