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Delafield v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 27, 2018

LORIE D. Plaintiff,



         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 13, 14. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Lorie D. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey R. McClain represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. 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.


         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on August 28, 2013, Tr. 145, alleging disability since September 2, 2009, Tr. 258, due to a brain tumor, injuries affecting memory, and mental stability, Tr. 292. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 170-73, 177-79. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) R.J. Payne held a hearing on February 2, 2016 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, medical expert, Lynn Jahnke, M.D., psychological expert, Nancy Winfrey, Ph.D., and vocational expert, K. Diane Kramer. Tr. 69-119. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her onset date to August 28, 2013. Tr. 71. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 9, 2016. Tr. 22-38. The Appeals Council denied review on June 27, 2017. Tr. 1-7. The ALJ's March 9, 2016 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on August 24, 2017. ECF Nos. 1, 4.


         The 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.

         Plaintiff was 51 years old at the alleged date of onset. Tr. 258. Her highest level of education was the eighth grade completed in 1976. Tr. 293. Her reported work history includes the jobs of cashier, customer service representative, and laborer. Tr. 293. Plaintiff reported that she stopped working on December 1, 2003 because she was let go, but that her conditions became severe enough to keep her from working as of September 2, 2009. Tr. 292.


         The ALJ 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 Court reviews the ALJ's determinations of law de novo, deferring to a reasonable interpretation of the 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. 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, 1229-30 (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).


         The 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, 140-42 (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 1098-99. This burden is met once the claimant establishes that physical or mental impairments prevent her from engaging in her previous occupations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If the claimant cannot do her past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, and (2) specific jobs which the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2004). If the 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).


         On March 9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 28, 2013, the amended date of onset. Tr. 24.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease - cervical and lumbar spine; cognitive disorder; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; pain disorder associated with psychological factors and a general medical condition; ...

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