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Shain S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

July 8, 2019

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

          ORDER AFFIRMING DENIAL OF BENEFITS

          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff 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.

         On 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 600-02.

         On 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.

         On 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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant 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.

         III. EVALUATING DISABILITY

         Plaintiff, 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).

         The 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).[1] 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.

         When 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. ...


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