United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION TO DENY
Theresa L. Fricke, United States Magistrate Judge
brought this matter for judicial review of the
Commissioner's denial of her application for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance
(“DIB”) benefits. Plaintiff-who alleges
disability primarily due to complex regional pain syndrome
(CRPS)- contends the decision of the Commissioner was based
on legal error and not supported by sufficient evidence.
ISSUES RAISED BY PLAINTIFF
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an
award of benefits, arguing (1) the ALJ inappropriately
discounted the opinion of treating physicians; and (2)
sufficient evidence does not support the decision to deny
benefits in light of new evidence presented to the Appeals
Council. See Dkt. 9, pp. 6-7. She also generally
asserts that “the preponderance of the evidence”
establishes she has been unemployable. Id. at p. 7.
For the reasons set forth below, the decision to deny
benefits is affirmed.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
October 21, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for SSI and
DIB, alleging she became disabled beginning April 21, 2014.
Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (AR) 14. Her application was
denied on initial administrative review and on
reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff appeared and
testified at a hearing before administrative law judge
Stephanie Martz (the “ALJ”) on November 29, 2016.
AR 90. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. AR 14-27. In the
written opinion, the ALJ also dismissed plaintiff's claim
for DIB because she had not acquired sufficient quarters of
coverage to remain insured through alleged onset date. AR 14.
This finding has not been challenged on appeal. See
Dkt. 1; Dkt. 9.
Commissioner employs a five-step sequential disability
evaluation process in determining whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the claimant is found
disabled or not disabled at any step, the disability
determination is made at that step, and the sequential
evaluation process ends. Id. Step one considers
whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172,
1175 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)).
Step two considers “the severity of the claimant's
impairments. Id. If the claimant is found to have a
severe impairment, step three considers “whether the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets
or equals a listing under 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app.
1.” Id. “If so, the claimant is
considered disabled and benefits are awarded, ending the
inquiry.” Id. If not, the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is
considered at step four in determining whether the claimant
can still do his or her past relevant work and, if necessary,
at step five “make an adjustment to other work.”
one, the ALJ determined plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since plaintiff's alleged
onset date of April 21, 2014. AR 16. At step two, the ALJ
found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: complex
regional pain syndrome (or CRPS); history of lumbar fusion
and hemilaminotomy with facet degeneration and disc bulge;
cervical degenerative disc disease; and osteoarthritis of the
left foot. Id. At step three, the ALJ found
plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments. AR 19.
step four, the ALJ determined plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work “except she needs to avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat,
vibration, and hazards (such as working around machinery or
heights).” AR 20. After determining plaintiff's
RFC, the ALJ found at step four she was unable to perform any
of her past relevant work, but that at step five she could
perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, and therefore found plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 25-27.
request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review.
AR 1. Plaintiff appealed to this Court on June 25, 2018.
See Dkt. 1. The Parties have consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. Dkt. 4.
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017).
Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires
“more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less
than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id.;
Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir.
2017). The Commissioner's findings will be upheld
“if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the
evidence, then the Court must uphold the ALJ's
interpretation. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the
Court “must affirm the decision actually made.”
Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984)
(quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th
Cir. 1971)). The Court, however, may not affirm by locating a
quantum of supporting evidence and ignoring the
non-supporting evidence. Orn, 495 F.3d at 630.
The ALJ appropriately discounted the opinions of