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Boyer v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 29, 2018

KARL F. BOYER, Plaintiff,


          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Karl Boyer appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Boyer argues that (1) the ALJ improperly discredited his symptom testimony; and (2) the ALJ improperly weighed and evaluated certain medical evidence. Because the ALJ gave specific, clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence for rejecting Boyer's symptom testimony, and the ALJ properly weighed and evaluated medical evidence, relying on specific, legitimate, findings supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Karl Boyer was born in July 1960. AR 54. He lives in Spokane, Washington, is divorced, and has adult children. AR. 54-55. He has worked as a musician, audio engineer, and telemarketer. AR 55-56, 67, 72-75. He has not worked full time since 2008. AR 203-04. Boyer alleges that he has knee and shoulder pain, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, anxiety, and depression, AR 203, and that these conditions limit his ability to lift, squat, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, and climb stairs, complete tasks, concentrate, understand, follow instructions, and use his hands. AR 196. Boyer applied for Supplemental Security Income on October 2, 2012, alleging an onset date of November 15, 2009. AR 165- 70.

         Boyer's application was denied initially in February 2013, and on reconsideration in May 2013. AR 109-16, 124-30. Boyer requested a hearing before an ALJ. Following a hearing held in May 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Boyer not disabled and denying his application for benefits on June 25, 2015. AR 21-39. Boyer timely appealed to this Court. ECF No. 1.


         A “disability” is defined 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

         Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past by examining the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth step.

         Step five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant cannot, the disability claim is granted.

         The burden of proof shifts during this sequential disability analysis. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show 1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity, and 2) that a “significant number of jobs exist in the national economy, ” which the claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1984). A claimant is disabled only if his impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his 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).


         At step one, the ALJ found that Boyer had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 2, 2012. AR 26. At step two, the ALJ found that Boyer had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the right knee; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar spine; ulnar neuropathy of the left elbow; and obesity. AR 26. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Boyer's impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed impairment. AR 29-30. At step four, the ALJ found that Boyer had the residual functional capacity to lift and/or carry up to thirty pounds occasionally and fifteen pounds frequently, to sit up to eight hours a day, and to stand/walk up to six hours a day. AR 30. Given those limitations, the ALJ found that Boyer was ...

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