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Brian P. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

May 31, 2019

BRIAN P., Plaintiff,



         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 12, 13. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Brian P. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Heather L. Griffith 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 the 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 on December 1, 2014, alleging disability since November 5, 2013, [1] due to mental health impairments. Tr. 139. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 162-65, 169-71. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Caroline Siderius held three hearings, on December 12, 2016, July 25, 2017, and August 16, 2017. Tr. 63-97, 98-113, 114-138. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 8, 2017. Tr. 17-29. Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council. Tr. 284, 419-20. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 3, 2018. Tr. 1-7. The ALJ's September 2017 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on July 24, 2018. ECF No. 1, 4.


         Plaintiff was born in 1982 and was 32 years old as of the alleged onset date. Tr. 28. He has a 12th grade education. Tr. 66. His work history consists primarily of fast food service, telemarketing, and sales. Tr. 132, 331, 343, 401-03.

         Plaintiff experienced a difficult childhood. Adopted at birth, his parents moved around throughout his childhood. Tr. 657, 760. He witnessed and was the victim of abuse at the hands of his father and other caretakers. Tr. 444, 657-58, 770. His parents divorced when he was ten years old. Tr. 657. At the age of 13, he joined a gang and was a witness and perpetrator of further violence. Tr. 658, 751-52.

         In his adult years, Plaintiff suffered a number of losses in a short period, including the deaths of both of his parents and his best friend. Tr. 451, 489, 501, 517. He had numerous felony convictions and domestic violence charges and spent time incarcerated. Tr. 421, 457-58.

         In late 2014 he began treatment with Frontier Behavioral Health. Tr. 457. After a few months of services, he was discharged from counseling, as he had met his treatment goals. Tr. 528. At the end of 2015, he reengaged with services and continued in treatment through May of 2017. Tr. 521, 749.


         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 ALJ's determinations of law are reviewed de novo, with deference to a reasonable interpretation of the applicable 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; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). 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, 1229-1230 (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); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (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 1098-1099. This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in past relevant work. 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) 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 a claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).


         On September 8, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as ...

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