United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR
ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON, United States District Judge.
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment from
Plaintiff Cheryl Ann Siekerman, ECF No. 13, and the
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”), ECF No. 14. Ms. Siekerman sought
judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the
Commissioner's denial of her claims for supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”). The Court has reviewed the motions,
the administrative record, and is fully informed. The motions
were heard without oral argument. The Court denies Ms.
Siekerman's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 13, and
grants the Commissioner's cross-motion, ECF No. 14.
Ms. Siekerman's Claim for Benefits and Procedural
Siekerman applied for supplemental security income through an
application filed on October 15, 2011. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 178-83. Ms. Siekerman was 34 years old at the
time that she applied for benefits. Ms. Siekerman initially
alleged that her onset date was January 1, 2004. AR 178. Ms.
Siekerman's application for supplemental security income
was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Ms.
Siekerman timely requested a hearing. In her initial hearing,
on July 24, 2013, the parties agreed that, for the purposes
of the ALJ's consideration of her application, Ms.
Siekerman's alleged onset date was October 15, 2011, the
date of her supplemental security income application. AR 47.
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. See AR 18.
the Appeals Council denied Ms. Siekerman's request for
review, Ms. Siekerman sought judicial review. AR 713-15.
Magistrate Judge Hutton remanded the case to the Commissioner
for further proceedings. AR 719-36.
May 12, 2016 Hearing
hearing took place before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Jesse K. Shumway on May 12, 2016, in
Spokane, Washington, with Ms. Siekerman, represented by
attorney Dana Madsen. See AR 625. Ms. Siekerman
responded to questions from her attorney and Judge Shumway. A
vocational expert, Polly A. Peterson, a medical expert, Judy
Panek, and a psychological expert, Donna Mary Veraldi, were
also present via telephone. At this hearing, the parties
determined that Ms. Siekerman's alleged onset date was
February 2, 2010, the date of Ms. Siekerman's earlier
application for benefits. AR 629.
10, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
See AR 589-622. Utilizing the five-step evaluation
process, Judge Shumway found:
Step one: Ms. Siekerman had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 2, 2010, the date
of her application.
Step two: Ms. Siekerman has the following
severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease;
lumbar degenerative disc disease status-post laminectomy;
obesity; borderline intellectual functioning; major
depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder; and
anti-social personality disorder.
Step three: Ms. Siekerman does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Functional Capacity (“RFC”): The ALJ
found that Ms. Siekerman had the RFC to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except:
she can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
crawl, and climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; she can only occasionally reach overhead; she can
tolerate only occasional exposure to extreme cold and
vibration, and must avoid all exposure to hazards and moving
mechanical parts; she is limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks requiring a reasoning level of 2 or less;
and she can have no contact with the public, and only
occasional superficial contact with supervisors and
four: Ms. Siekerman is unable to perform past
relevant work as a telemarketer, because an individual with
Ms. Siekerman's limitations could not perform this work,
based on the testimony of the vocational expert. AR 615.
five: Ms. Siekerman was not disabled for purposes of
the Social Security Act. The ALJ considered Ms.
Siekerman's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and
found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy that Ms. Siekerman can perform.
on this finding, Judge Shumway concluded that Ms. Siekerman
was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act.
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms.
Siekerman's request for review on November 23, 2016. AR
578-81. Ms. Siekerman seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's denial of benefits.
Standard of Review
has provided a limited scope of judicial review of a
Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A court
may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only
if the ALJ's determination was based on legal error or
not supported by substantial evidence. See Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). “The [Commissioner's]
determination that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld
if the findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence.” Delgado v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 570,
572 (9th Cir. 1983) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less
than a preponderance. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514
F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975); McCallister v.
Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 601-02 (9th Cir. 1989).
Substantial evidence “means such evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (citations omitted). “[S]uch inferences
and conclusions as the [Commissioner] may reasonably draw
from the evidence” will also be upheld. Mark v.
Celebrezze, 348 F.2d 289, 293 (9th Cir. 1965). On
review, the court considers the record as a whole, not just
the evidence supporting the decisions of the Commissioner.
Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989)
(quoting Kornock v. Harris, 648 F.2d 525, 526 (9th
the role of the trier of fact, not the reviewing court, to
resolve conflicts in evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S.
at 400. If evidence supports more than one rational
interpretation, the court may not substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097;
Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984).
Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence
will still be set aside if the proper legal standards were
not applied in weighing the evidence and making a decision.
Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services,
839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). Thus, if there is
substantial evidence to support the administrative findings,
or if there is conflicting evidence that will support a
finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of
the Commissioner is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen,
812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987).
Definition of Disability
Social Security Act defines “disability” 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also
provides that a claimant shall be determined to be under a
disability only if his impairments are of such severity that
the claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, but
cannot, considering the claimant's 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). Thus, the
definition of disability consists of both medical and
vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
Sequential Evaluation Process
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Step one determines if he
is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If the claimant
is engaged in substantial gainful activities, ...