United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DENIAL OF BENEFITS
S. Lasnik United States District Judge.
Shain S. appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), which denied his application
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§401-33, after a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and the
case is DISMISSED with prejudice.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 50-year-old man with a high school education.
See Admin. Record (“AR”) at 76, 524.
Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of
September 3, 2012. Id. at 76. His claims were denied
on initial administrative review and on reconsideration.
Id. at 76-85, 88-98. On April 10, 2014, ALJ Tom
Morris held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational
expert testified. Id. at 31-75.
December 23, 2014, ALJ Morris issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at 12-24.
The Appeals Council denied review. Id. at 1-3.
Plaintiff then sought review in this Court. Id. at
December 14, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Christel
issued a decision reversing ALJ Morris's decision and
remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings.
Id. at 611-24. Magistrate Judge Christel held that
ALJ Morris erred in rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
testimony, and should reevaluate the statements from Aaron
Eusterbrock, PA-C and the lay witnesses. Id. at
611-23. Magistrate Judge Christel held, however, that
Plaintiff failed to establish that the ALJ erred by failing
to fully develop the record. Id. at 623-24.
remand, ALJ Morris held a second hearing. Id. at
522-73. ALJ Morris subsequently issued a decision again
denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at
498-514. Plaintiff did not file written exceptions, and the
Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction. Plaintiff then
sought review before this Court. Compl. (Dkt. #3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), the Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and 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); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
as the claimant, bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. Meanel v.
Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The Act
defines disability as the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or
mental impairment that has lasted, or is expected to last,
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(1)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Act only
if his impairments are of such severity that he is unable to
do his previous work, and cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other
substantial gainful activity existing in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A); see also Tackett
v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant bears the burden of proof
during steps one through four. Valentine v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). At
step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.
Id. If a claimant is found to be disabled at any
step in the sequence, the inquiry ends without the need to
consider subsequent steps. Step one asks whether the claimant
is presently engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(b). If he is,
disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. Id. At step two,
the claimant must establish that he has one or more medically
severe impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit
his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have
such impairments, he is not disabled. Id. If the
claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets
or equals any of the listed impairments described in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d). A claimant whose
impairment meets or equals one of the listings for the
required 12-month duration is disabled. Id.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the
physical and mental demands of the claimant's past
relevant work to determine whether he can still perform that
work. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(f). If the claimant is able to
perform her past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the
opposite is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at step five to show that the claimant can perform other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy,
taking into consideration the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. ...