United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Richard Lyle Averette appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied his applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-33 and 1381-83f, 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
is a 51-year-old man with a 9th-grade education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 45. His past work
experience includes employment as a cashier, donation
attendant, and laborer. AR at 154. Plaintiff was last
gainfully employed in October 2008. AR at 153.
filed for DIB and SSI in March 2012 and October 2012,
respectively, alleging an onset date of October 1, 2008. AR
at 130-37. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due to
hearing and vision loss. AR at 153.
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially
and on reconsideration. AR at 77-79, 81-82. Plaintiff
requested a hearing, which took place on September 23, 2013.
AR at 31-58. On January 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits based on
his finding that if Plaintiff stopped substance abuse, he
could perform a specific job existing in significant numbers
in the national economy. AR at 14-26. Plaintiff's
administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council, AR at 1-6, making the ALJ's ruling
the “final decision” of the Commissioner as that
term is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
sought judicial review, and the U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Washington reversed the ALJ's
decision and remanded for further administrative proceedings.
AR at 688-700. A different ALJ held another hearing on
November 8, 2016 (AR at 624-58), and subsequently found
Plaintiff not disabled. AR at 595-614. On September 1, 2017,
Plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 1.
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. Averette 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
30, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding the following:
1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2010.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2008, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
Dysthymic Disorder/Major Depressive Disorder; Panic Disorder
with Agoraphobia; Alcohol Dependence; Diabetes; ...