United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER AND DISMISSING THE
A. Tsuchida Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Nellie P. seeks review of the denial of her applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. She contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the
medical evidence and her testimony, and that the resulting
residual functional capacity finding and finding of
nondisability are erroneous. Dkt. 14. The Court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final
decision and DISMISSES the case with
is currently 44 years old, has a high school education, and
has worked as a collections agent and customer service
representative. Tr. 58, 78-81, 200. She applied for benefits
in August 2014, alleging disability as of November 2013. Tr.
200, 207, 215. After her applications were denied initially
and on reconsideration, the ALJ conducted a hearing and, on
October 31, 2016, issued a decision finding plaintiff not
disabled. Tr. 35-44. The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 7.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date; she had the following
severe impairments: fibromyalgia and mild degenerative disc
disease with lumbar spondylosis and spina bifida, status post
lumbar fusion; and these impairments did not meet or equal
the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 37-38. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
to perform sedentary work with additional postural and
environmental limitations. Tr. 38. The ALJ found that
plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a
collections agent and, in the alternative, there were other
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that plaintiff could perform. Tr. 42-44. The ALJ
therefore found that plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 44.
asserts that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical
evidence. Dkt. 14 at 2. She describes, over the course of
nearly five full pages of her brief, medical treatment notes
from 2013 through 2016. Dkt. 14 at 2-7. She concludes this
recitation by stating: “Although none of
[plaintiff's] treatment providers have stated a specific
opinion regarding [plaintiff's] functional limitations,
the clinical findings from all of her treatment providers
fully support [plaintiff's] testimony about the symptoms
and limitations she has been experiencing since November
2013.” Dkt. 14 at 7.
presents no argument or explanation with respect to this
evidence, nor does she identify any error in the ALJ's
assessment of the evidence. The Court may deem arguments that
are unsupported by explanation to be waived. See Avila v.
Astrue, No. C07-1331, 2008 WL 4104300 (E.D. Cal. Sept.
2, 2008) at *2 (unpublished opinion) (citing Nw.
Acceptance Corp. v. Lynnwood Equip., Inc., 841 F.2d 918,
923-24 (9th Cir. 1996) (party who presents no explanation in
support of claim of error waives issue)). Merely pointing to
the existence of evidence and stating that it supports the
claimant's testimony is insufficient to present an
argument to the court. And even if plaintiff had explained
how this evidence supports her testimony, the existence of an
alternative interpretation of the evidence does not establish
error in the ALJ's assessment. When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that the court must uphold.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). Plaintiff has done nothing to show that that the
ALJ's assessment of the evidence is invalid.
does, however, present arguments with respect to two aspects
of the medical evidence. First, she asserts that the ALJ
erroneously found that psoriatic arthritis was not a
medically determinable severe impairment. Dkt. 14 at 7. The
ALJ found that while plaintiff has psoriasis, there is no
diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. Tr. 38. Plaintiff argues
that contrary to the ALJ's finding, Dr. Rompala diagnosed
psoriatic arthritis in June 2016. Dkt. 14 at 7.
impairment is medically determinable if it results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
To be medically determinable, a physical or mental impairment
must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs,
symptoms, and laboratory findings. Id. A
claimant's statement of symptoms alone is not enough to
establish a physical or mental impairment. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1508, 404.1528(a). Where there are no medical signs or
laboratory findings to substantiate the existence of a
medically determinable impairment, the ALJ must find the
claimant not disabled at step two, regardless of how many
symptoms a claimant alleges or how genuine the complaints may
appear to be. SSR 96-4p. “The mere existence of an
impairment is insufficient proof of a disability.”
Matthews v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 678, 680 (9th Cir.
1993) (citing Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639,
642-43 (9th Cir. 1982)).
points to a June 2016 treatment note from Dr. Rompala. That
note states: “Dx [diagnosis] of psoriatic arthritis.
Feet hurting, toes hurting, painful, had been seeing
rheumatologist, would like to continue.” Tr. 1381. Dr.
Rompala referred plaintiff to rheumatology. Tr. 1383. But
this treatment note does not document any signs or laboratory
findings of psoriatic arthritis; there is no indication that
Dr. Rompala did anything other than record plaintiff's
symptoms and enter a referral to rheumatology. This treatment
note is insufficient to establish psoriatic arthritis as a
medically determinable impairment. Thus, even if the ALJ erred
by finding there was no diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis in
the record, any error in that finding is rendered harmless by
the lack of evidence sufficient to establish the existence of
a medically determinable impairment. See Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1122 (9th Cir. 2012) (an error is
harmless where it is inconsequential to the ALJ's
ultimate nondisability determination). The court finds no
basis to disturb the ALJ's assessment of this impairment.
plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the opinion
of the state agency medical consultant. Dkt. 14 at 8. Dale
Thuline, M.D., reviewed the record in January 2015 and opined
that plaintiff was able to perform a reduced range of light
work. Tr. 119-20. The ALJ gave this opinion, the only medical
opinion in the record, significant weight. Tr. 42. But the
ALJ found that plaintiff was limited to sedentary work based