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Paul S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 22, 2019

PAUL S., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 13, 14. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Paul S. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Justin Lane Martin represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         JURISDICTION

         Plaintiff filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on October 22, 2014, Tr. 201, 209, alleging disability since January 1, 2000, Tr. 315, 324, due to multiple mental health issues, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a back disorder, Tr. 361. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 243-50, 253-59. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stewart Stallings held a hearing on August 18, 2016 and heard testimony from Plaintiff, medical expert Stephen Rubin, Ph.D., and vocational expert K. Diane Kramer. Tr. 162-200, 429. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged date of onset to October 22, 2014 and withdrew his request for a hearing on the DIB application. Tr. 165-66. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 17, 2016. Tr. 93-105. The Appeals Council denied review on March 9, 2018. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's October 17, 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 April 24, 2014. ECF Nos. 1, 4.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         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 47 years old at the date of application and amended date of onset. Tr. 324. He completed high school and one year of college. Tr. 362, 412. His reported work history includes building cabinets. Tr. 362-63. When applying for benefits Plaintiff reported that he stopped working on January 1, 2000 because of his conditions. Tr. 361-62.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         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 him from engaging in his previous occupations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If the claimant cannot do his 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) the claimant can perform specific jobs which 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).

         ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On October 17, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act from October 22, 2014 through the date of the decision.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2014, the date of ...


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