United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER RULING ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Shari R. appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ)
denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income
benefits. She alleges that the ALJ (1) erroneously rejected
medical opinions, (2) improperly discredited Rhyne's
testimony, and (3) the improperly found that the
Commissioner's burden at step five was met. The ALJ
properly weighed the opinion testimony but failed to properly
identify representative occupations that Plaintiff could
perform with her residual functional capacity that exist in
substantial numbers in the national economy. As a result, the
case is remanded to the Social Security Administration for
additional proceedings consistent with this order.
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
on August 26, 2011, alleging disability beginning May 13,
2011. AR 143, 151. Her claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. AR 89, 98. Plaintiff received an unfavorable
decision on October 26, 2012. AR 17-43. Plaintiff sought
review of the final administrative decision from this Court.
AR 691-93. On November 12, 2015, the Court remanded the
matter for additional proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. 405(g). AR 711. On December 31, 2015, the Appeals
Council remanded the case for a rehearing consistent with the
order of this Court. AR 718.
September 9, 2016, a hearing was held before ALJ R. J. Payne.
AR 589. In a decision filed on June 12, 2017, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. AR 575. The Appeals Council did not
assume jurisdiction of the case, and the ALJ's June 2017
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner after
the Court's remand. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(a).
Plaintiff now seeks review of the ALJ's June 2017
“disability” is defined 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. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The decision-maker uses a
five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether
a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the
decision-maker proceeds to step two.
two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does
not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does,
the evaluation proceeds to the third step.
three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of
listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the
impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth
four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant
from performing work he has performed in the past by
examining the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant
is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If
the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation
proceeds to the fifth step.
five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can
perform other work in the national economy in view of his
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability claim is
denied. If the claimant cannot, the disability claim is
burden of proof shifts during this sequential disability
analysis. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing
a prima facie case of entitlement to disability
benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th
Cir. 1971). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to
show 1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful
activity, and 2) that a “significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy, ” which the claimant can
perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th
Cir. 1984). A claimant is disabled only if his impairments
are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since August 26, 2011. AR 561.
At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the
following medically determinable severe impairments:
bilateral hip dysplasia/bursitis, arthralgias/fibromyalgia,
obesity, depressive order, borderline intellectual
functioning, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance
use disorder. Id. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had
complaints of abdominal pain, COPD, and carpal tunnel
syndrome, but found that none of these conditions were severe
impairments. AR 16. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff's
records reflected hyperlipidemia, hypertension, sinusitis,
and vitamin D deficiency, lower back pain, gastroesophageal
reflux disease, closed left ankle fracture, and conversion
disorder. However, the ALJ found that these did not
constitute severe impairments.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. AR
565. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(a). The ALJ imposed the
following limitations: the claimant can lift no more than 10
pounds at a time occasionally and lift or carry less than 10
pounds frequently; can sit for 6 hours and stand and walk 2
hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks; can
occasionally can climb ramps/stairs, stoop, crouch, kneel,
crawl, balance, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; needs to avoid concentrated exposure to heavy
industrial-type vibration; and no working at unprotected
heights. Mentally, the claimant is able to understand,
remember, and carry out simple routine work tasks; is
restricted to low stress level work (e.g., not fast-paced
work, strict production and quota type work, managerial work,
independent decision-making, or work requiring more than
simple work place judgments); and no memorization of visual
information in conjunction with a job. AR 566-67. In reaching
this conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause the alleged symptoms, but he found that some of
Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects were not entirely credible.
determining Plaintiff's physical capacity, the ALJ gave
great weight to the opinions of reviewing physicians Nancy
Winfrey and Reuben Beezy. AR 25. The ALJ gave partial weight
to the opinions of examining physician William Drenguis and
reviewing physicians Guthrie Turner and Gordon Hale. The ALJ
also gave partial weight to the opinion of reviewing
physician Ivan Reveron. The ALJ gave minimal weight to the
opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Jill Simon. AR
571. The ALJ also gave little weight to the opinions of ARNP
Kristine Kehler and DSHS reviewing physicians Myrna Palasi
and Brent Packer. AR 572.
five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any
past relevant work and that there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. AR 574-75.