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Green v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 14, 2018




         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 18, 19. Attorney Cathy M. Helman represents Mary Eyvonne Green (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney David J. Burdett represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 10. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on November 13, 2012, alleging disability since June 1, 2010, due to migraines, memory, thyroid, depression and cellulitis. Tr. 196, 203, 235. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Caroline Siderius held a hearing on July 23, 2015, Tr. 43-92, and issued an unfavorable decision on August 12, 2015, Tr. 21-33. The Appeals Council denied review on January 24, 2017. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's August 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 March 23, 2017. ECF No. 1, 6.


         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 born on March 11, 1981, and was 29 years old on the alleged onset date, June 1, 2010. Tr. 196. She obtained a GED in 1999, attended two years of college, and earned a certification as a nursing assistant (CNA) in 2005. Tr. 61, 236.

         Plaintiff testified at the July 2015 administrative hearing that she resided in a home with her three children, ages 14, nine and six. Tr. 60. She stated she last worked as a CNA for St. Luke's Rehabilitation in 2011, Tr. 61-62, 63, and left that position when she suddenly begin experiencing "severe migraines" and her neck and fingers began becoming stiff. Tr. 62-63. When asked what she believed to be her primarty obstacle to finding a job, Plaintiff testified her memory issues, back issues, swelling in her feet, right leg pain, depression and PTSD were her main problems. Tr. 80. She later stated that her memory issues and "breakthrough headaches" prevented her from working. Tr. 84. Plaintiffs disability report indicates she stopped working on June 30, 2011 because of her condition(s). Tr. 235.

         With respect to her alleged impairments, Plaintiff described being anxious around groups of people and having panic attacks about once a month, Tr. 65, problems with her memory as a side effect from taking headache medication (Topamax), Tr. 66-67, having day-long breakthrough headaches about three to five times a week, Tr. 68, difficulty sleeping at night and experiencing daytime sleepiness, Tr. 71, having constant back and hip pain, Tr. 72-73, experiencing neck discomfort, Tr. 73-74, and having fluid retention or swelling and pain in her legs and feet, Tr. 74-75.

         Plaintiff testified she was able to care for her own personal grooming and dressing, keep up with household chores, cook, shop, drive and take care of her own finances. Tr. 75-77, 80. She also reads, watches television and takes her dog for walks. Tr. 77.


         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 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).


         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); 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 a physical or mental impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). If a claimant cannot perform 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 ...

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