United States District Court, E.D. Washington
JUDGMENTANDGRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARYJUDGMENT ECF NOS. 18, 25
K. DIMKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 18, 25. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 9. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 18) and
grants Defendant's motion (ECF No. 25).
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
district court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is
limited; 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 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial
evidence” means “relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. at 1159 (quotation and
citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence
equates to “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less
than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and
citation omitted). In determining whether the standard has
been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire
record as a whole rather than searching for supporting
evidence in isolation. Id.
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). 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). Further, a district court “may not reverse an
ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Id. An error is harmless
“where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's]
ultimate nondisability determination.” Id. at
1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing
the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of
establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v.
Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).
claimant must satisfy two conditions to be considered
“disabled” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. First, the claimant must be “unable 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Second, the claimant's impairment must be “of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work[,
] but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis
to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step
one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful activity, ”
the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b).
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
analysis proceeds to step two. At this step, the Commissioner
considers the severity of the claimant's impairment. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant suffers from
“any impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits [his or her] physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities, ” the analysis proceeds to
step three. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If the
claimant's impairment does not satisfy this severity
threshold, however, the Commissioner must find that the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c).
three, the Commissioner compares the claimant's
impairment to severe impairments recognized by the
Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude a person from
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment is as severe or more
severe than one of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must find the claimant disabled and award
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d).
severity of the claimant's impairment does not meet or
exceed the severity of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must pause to assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity.” Residual
functional capacity (RFC), defined generally as the
claimant's ability to perform physical and mental work
activities on a sustained basis despite his or her
limitations, 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1), is relevant to
both the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis.
four, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
work that he or she has performed in the past (past relevant
work). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is
capable of performing past relevant work, the Commissioner
must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(f). If the claimant is incapable of performing such
work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
five, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
Commissioner must also consider vocational factors such as
the claimant's age, education and past work experience.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant
is capable of adjusting to other work, the Commissioner must
find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of adjusting to
other work, analysis concludes with a finding that the
claimant is disabled and is therefore entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)(1).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four
above. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th
Cir. 1999). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to 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. § 416.960(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).
filed an application for Title XVI supplemental security
income benefits on September 5, 2012, alleging an amended
onset date of September 15, 2012. Tr. 277-82. The application
was denied initially, Tr. 175-82, and on reconsideration, Tr.
184-90. Plaintiff appeared pro se at a hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on January 30, 2015.
Tr. 49-63. Plaintiff appeared with counsel at supplemental
hearings on June 12, 2015, Tr. 64-98, and September 11, 2015,
Tr. 99-149. On October 8, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 27-42.
one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since September 5, 2012. Tr. 29. At step two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity;
coronary artery disease back problems described as
degenerative arthritis and degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine, lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, and
thoracic spondylosis; and mental impairments described as
generalized anxiety disorder without agoraphobia, cannabis
use, and polysubstance use. Tr. 29. At step three, the ALJ
found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a
listed impairment. Tr. 30. The ALJ then concluded that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work with the
[T]he claimant can sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday; stand and walk six hours total in any combination in
an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; can lift and carry
20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can
occasionally push or pull arm or leg controls within the
weight limitations given; can occasionally stoop, crouch,
kneel, crawl, and balance; can occasionally climb ramps or
stairs; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He should
avoid concentrated exposure to heavy industrial vibrations;
no unprotected heights; should avoid concentrated exposure to
hazardous machinery, and extreme cold or heat. He can
occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity;
can frequently reach in all other directions within 18 inches
of the body with the right upper extremity; and can
occasionally reach in all other directions outside of 18
inches of the body with the right upper extremity. The
claimant would need a job where he is around co-workers and
the general public; no job where he would be completely
isolated; and no job that would be considered claustrophobic
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is able to perform past
relevant work as a fast foods worker. Tr. 40. Alternatively,
at step five, the ALJ found there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform, such as barista, cashier, and ticket seller. Tr.
41. On November 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review
of the ALJ's decision, Tr. 1-6, making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes
of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying him supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff raises
the following issues for review:
1. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's symptom
2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion
3. Whether the ALJ's RFC finding is supported by
substantial evidence; and
4. Whether the ALJ properly considered the Medical Vocational