United States District Court, E.D. Washington
BRUCE A. HORNBUCKLE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment.
ECF No. 13, 14. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Bruce A.
Hornbuckle (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States
Attorney Leisa A. Wolf represents the Commissioner of Social
Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. After reviewing the
administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the
Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment.
September 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, alleging
disability since September 1, 2012, due to nerve damage,
carpal tunnel, arthritis and osteoarthritis. Tr. 156, 175.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon
Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palachuk held a hearing on March 16,
2016, Tr. 41-75, and issued an unfavorable decision on April
6, 2016, Tr. 20-30. The Appeals Council denied review on May
19, 2017. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's April 2016 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
June 29, 2017. ECF No. 1, 4.
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.
was born on April 12, 1965, and was 47 years old on the
alleged onset date, September 1, 2012. Tr. 156. He had
completed two years of college. Tr. 176. Plaintiff's
disability report indicates he stopped working on September
1, 2012, because of his conditions, Tr. 175; however, as
indicated by the ALJ, Plaintiff's last reported earnings
were in 2006, Tr. 66.
testified at the March 2016 administrative hearing that he
experiences daily pain for which he takes non-narcotic
medications. Tr. 58-59. He stated he wore braces for his hand
issues, described an inability to make a fist, indicated he
is not able to use his fingers to hold things, and is unable
to open twist-top containers. Tr. 57-58, 62-64. Plaintiff
also indicated he had been experiencing increased acid reflux
and allergies. Tr. 59. He denied having any difficulty with
depression. Tr. 65-66.
testified he was not limited in sitting, was able to walk a
mile without difficulties, and could stand one to six hours
without having a problem. Tr. 59-60. He specifically stated
he believed he could stand for a six-hour period of time in a
work situation. Tr. 60-61. With respect to household chores,
Plaintiff indicated he struggled with the continuous
aerating/raking he had to perform, was able to cook but would
need to use two hands when holding a gallon of milk and heavy
kitchen tools, and was able to do the general cleaning in the
home. Tr. 61-62. He testified he spends most of his day as a
“couch potato” watching television. Tr. 65.
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).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a); see 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 physical or
mental impairments prevent him from engaging in his previous
occupation. 20 C.F.R. § 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
the claimant can perform other jobs present in significant
numbers in the national economy. Batson v. Commissioner
of Social Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (2004).
If a claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the
national economy, a finding of “disabled” is
made. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
April 6, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the application date, September 10,
2013. Tr. 22. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: mixed arthritis bilateral
hand (combination of osteoarthritis and zero negative
rheumatoid arthritis) present since June 2013; history of
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post release surgery
on the left in November 2013; and mild osteoarthritis right
hip and low back. Tr. 22. At step three, the ALJ found