United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Scott Putnam appeals the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33,
after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was a
33-year-old man with an 11th-grader education. Administrative
Record (“AR”) at 43. His past work experience
includes employment as a laborer and valet. AR at 344.
Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in 2010. AR at 19, 45,
September 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for DIB, alleging an onset date of December 25,
2007. AR at 112, 251-54. Plaintiff asserts that
he is disabled due to a back injury and numbness in his right
leg. AR at 335, 366.
Commissioner denied Plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 148-54, 157-61. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on July 10, 2015. AR at 38-69. On
February 2, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled and denied benefits based on her finding that
Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 16-29.
Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision
was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 1-7, making the
ALJ's ruling the “final decision” of the
Commissioner as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). On August 25, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed the
present action challenging the Commissioner's decision.
Dkt. 1, 3.
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and 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); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
claimant, Mr. Putnam bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111,
1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act
defines disability as the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or
mental impairment which has lasted, or is 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). A claimant
is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such
severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in
the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A);
see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99
(9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the
burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a
claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence,
the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent
steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is,
disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant
must establish that he has one or more medically severe
impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If
the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets
or equals any of the listed impairments described in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the
listings for the required twelve-month duration requirement
is disabled. Id.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner
evaluates the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can
still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the opposite is true,
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, taking into
consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the
Commissioner finds the claimant is unable to perform other
work, then the claimant is found disabled and benefits may be
February 2, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding the
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on March 31, 2014.
2. The claimant did not engaged in substantial gainful
activity during the period from the date he can first be
found disabled, May 3, 2011.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, obesity, and a congenital deformity of the
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he could only perform frequent
squatting and kneeling. The claimant could perform frequent
reaching, handling, and fingering with the bilateral upper
extremities. He could perform occasional twisting, bending,
and stooping and occasional overhead reaching with the