United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT; DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
STANLEY A. BASTIAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are Plaintiff Natalie Gibb's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 12, and Defendant Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration's Cross-Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 16. The motions were heard without oral
argument. Plaintiff is represented by Dana C. Madsen;
Defendant is represented by Assistant United States Attorney
Timothy Durkin and Special Assistant United States Attorney
Joseph J. Langkamer.
December 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits as well as a Title XVI
application for supplemental income. Plaintiff alleges an
onset date of December 4, 2012.
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On
March 26, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing
held in Spokane, Washington before an ALJ. The ALJ issued a
decision on June 3, 2015, finding that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals
Council, which denied the request on February 18, 2017. The
Appeals Council's denial of review makes the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
filed a timely appeal with the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Washington on April 12, 2017. The
matter is before this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Social Security Act defines disability 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. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant shall be determined to be under a
disability only if his impairments are of such severity that
the claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, but
cannot, considering claimant's age, education, and work
experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work
which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987).
Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activities? 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(b). Substantial gainful activity is
work done for pay and requires compensation above the
statutory minimum. Id.; Keyes v. Sullivan,
894 F.2d 1053, 1057 (9th Cir. 1990). If the claimant is
engaged in substantial activity, benefits are denied. 20
C.F.R. § 416.971. If he is not, the ALJ proceeds to step
Does the claimant have a medically-severe impairment or
combination of impairments? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If
the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination
of impairments, the disability claim is denied. A severe
impairment is one that lasted or must be expected to last for
at least 12 months and must be proven through objective
medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 416.908-.909. If the
impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third
Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the
listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled.
Id. If the impairment is not one conclusively
presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the
considering Step 4, the ALJ must first determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(e). An individual's residual functional capacity
is her ability to do physical and mental work activities on a
sustained basis despite limitations from her impairments.
Does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing work
she has performed in the past? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f).
If the claimant is able to perform her previous work, she is
not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot perform
this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final
Is the claimant able to perform other work in the national
economy in view of her age, education, and work experience?
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits.
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999). This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a
physical or mental impairment prevents her from engaging in
her previous occupation. Id. At step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
can perform other substantial gainful activity. Id.
Commissioner's determination will be set aside only when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir.
1992) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Substantial evidence
is “more than a mere scintilla, ” Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), but “less
than a preponderance.” Sorenson v. Weinberger,
514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must uphold
the ALJ's denial of benefits if the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the decision of the administrative law judge.
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). The Court reviews the entire
record. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th
Cir. 1985). “If the evidence can support either
outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that
of the ALJ.” Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019.
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.
Secr'y of Health & Human Servs., 839 F.2d 432,
433 (9th Cir. 1988). An ALJ is allowed
“inconsequential” errors as long as they are
immaterial to the ultimate nondisability determination.
Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d
1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006).
facts have been presented in the administrative transcript,
the ALJ's decision, and the briefs to this Court; only
the most relevant facts are summarized here.
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 54-years old. She lived
with and took care of her elderly mother. She has worked
mostly data entry jobs, clerical temp jobs and housekeeping.
Her last job was as a housekeeper. She quit that job because
she felt she could not physically or mentally continue to
2012, Plaintiff suffered from depression and chronic right
shoulder pain. She also experienced vertigo and a deviated
septum. She had surgery for the deviated septum in June,
2013, which appeared to clear up her nasal problems. She
continues to experience problems with her vertigo, including
becoming dizzy when she bends down. Plaintiff also
experienced loss of appetite and weight loss. In July, 2013,
she fell and broke her clavicle, which took several months to
heal and continues to cause her pain. In January, 2014, she
was admitted to the hospital with diarrhea, vomiting, and
dehydration. She went into respiratory failure and was
admitted into the ICU. It was determined that she had
pneumonia and a cyst on her pancreas (which turned out to be
benign). She spent three weeks in the hospital and was
discharged to a care facility where she recuperated. After
her hospitalization, she continued to experience loose
stools, varying between 10 a day to less than 3-4 times a
day, and ...