United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
H. WHALEY SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, ECF Nos. 12, 13. Ms. Lucas brings this action
seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
of the Commissioner's final decision, which denied her
application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 1381-1383F.
After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by
the parties, the Court is now fully informed. For the reasons
set forth below, the Court GRANTS
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and
DENIES Ms. Lucas' Motion for Summary
Lucas filed her application for Supplemental Security Income
on May 3, 2012. AR 203-08. Her alleged onset date in her
application is June 1, 2009. AR 203. Ms. Lucas'
application was initially denied on September 19, 2012, AR
150-58, and on reconsideration on July 30, 2013, AR 162-67. A
hearing with Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") R.J.
Payne occurred on August 27, 2015. AR 36-111. On September
25, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Lucas
ineligible for disability benefits. AR 11-25. The Appeals
Council denied her request for review on February 17, 2017,
AR 1-5, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Ms. Lucas filed her Complaint in District
Court on April 11 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
ECF No. 3.
Sequential Evaluation Process
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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), l382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant shall be determined
to be under a disability only if the claimant's
impairments are of such severity that the claimant is not
only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering
claimant's age, education, and work experience, engage in
any other substantial gainful work that exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) &
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4);
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
one inquires whether the claimant is presently engaged in
"substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b) & 416.920(b). Substantial
gainful activity is defined as significant physical or mental
activities done or usually done for profit. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1572 & 416.972. If the claimant is
engaged in substantial activity, he or she is not entitled to
disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 &
416.920(b). If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.
two asks whether the claimant has a severe impairment, or
combination of impairments, that significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) &
416.920(c). A severe impairment is one that has lasted or is
expected to last for at least twelve months, and must be
proven by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508-09 & 416.908-09. If the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, or combination of impairments, the
disability claim is denied, and no further evaluative steps
are required. Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the third
three involves a determination of whether any of the
claimant's severe impairments "meets or equals"
one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the
Commissioner to be sufficiently severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526 & 416.920(d), 416.925,
416.926; 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1 ("the
Listings"). If the impairment meets or equals one of the
listed impairments, the claimant is per se disabled
and qualifies for benefits. Id. If the claimant is
not per se disabled, the evaluation proceeds to the
four examines whether the claimant's residual functional
capacity enables the claimant to perform past relevant work.
20 C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(e)-(f) & 4l6.92O(e)-(f).
If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, the
claimant is not entitled to disability benefits and the
inquiry ends. Id.
five shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove that the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy, taking into account the claimant's age,
education, and work experience. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512(f), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c) &
416.912(f), 416.920(g), 416.960(c). To meet this burden, the
Commissioner must 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, 676 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir.
Standard of Review
A district court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
scope of review under § 405(g) is limited, and 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 1144,
1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing § 405(g)). Substantial
evidence means "more than a mere scintilla but less than
a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Sandgathe v. Chafer, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th
Cir.1997) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035,
1039 (9th Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In
determining whether the Commissioner's findings are
supported by substantial evidence, "a reviewing court
must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466
F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hammock v.
Bowen, 879 F.2d498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)).
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Matney v.
Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). 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); see
also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002) (if the "evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the conclusion must be
upheld"). Moreover, a district court "may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless." Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111. An error
is harmless "where it is inconsequential to the
[ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination."
Id. at 1115. The burden of showing that an error is
harmful generally falls upon the party appealing the
ALJ's decision. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S.
396, 409-10 (2009).
Statement of Facts
facts of the case are set forth in detail in the transcript
of proceedings and only briefly summarized here. Ms. Lucas
was 35 years old at the time of filing. AR 203. Ms. Lucas has
a combination of physical and mental impairments. AR 13. She
has previously worked as a teacher's aide, bus attendant,
and housekeeper. AR 24.