United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING DENIAL OF BENEFITS
B. Leighton United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt.
4) for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
denial of her application for disability insurance
(“DI”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits. This is the second time this
matter has been before the Court. See Admin. Record
(“AR”) (Dkt. 9) at 1077-79.
has severe impairments of “recurrent herpatic [sic]
rash (also diagnosed as shingles and recurrent herpes simplex
virus), and degenerative disc disease.” Id. at
1795. In 2012 and 2013, Plaintiff applied for DI and SSI
benefits, originally alleging disability as of December 12,
2005. See Id. at 79, 196-200, 206-14. Plaintiff
later amended her disability onset date to November 9, 2006.
Id. at 1021, 1792. Plaintiff's applications were
denied on initial review and on reconsideration. Id.
at 79-87, 91-110.
Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Ruperta Alexis held a hearing on
Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 42-78. On April 25,
2014, ALJ Alexis issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled and denying her claim for benefits. Id. at
28-36. The Appeals Council denied review. Id. at
11-14. Plaintiff then sought review in this Court. See
Id. at 1097-1100.
October 12, 2016, based on the parties' stipulation, U.S.
District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a decision reversing and
remanding the ALJ's decision for further administrative
proceedings. Id. at 1081-82. Judge Lasnik ordered
that the ALJ on remand must update and reevaluate the medical
evidence, reevaluate Plaintiff's symptom testimony,
reassess Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and ability to perform other work, offer
Plaintiff the opportunity for a new hearing, and conduct
further proceedings as necessary to reevaluate the disability
remand, ALJ M.J. Adams held a second hearing. Id. at
1017-59. On May 14, 2018, ALJ Adams issued a decision again
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and denying her claim
for benefits. Id. at 1792-1806. The Appeals Council
did not assume jurisdiction, so the ALJ's decision became
the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.984(d), 416.1484(d).
argues that ALJ Adams erred in finding that Plaintiff's
alleged somatoform disorder was not a severe impairment, and
in discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.
Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. 24) at 1. Plaintiff asks the Court to
remand this matter for further administrative proceedings.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).
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 ALJ.
See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
The ALJ Did Not Harmfully Err in Finding That Plaintiff's
Somatoform Disorder Was Not A Severe Impairment
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that her somatoform
disorder was not a severe impairment. Pl. Op. Br. at 2-8. At
step two of the disability evaluation, ALJ Adams determined
that Plaintiff had a medically determinable impairment of
somatoform disorder, but found that it did not cause more
than minimal limitation in Plaintiff's ability to perform
basic work activities. AR at 1796. ALJ Adams noted that
Douglas Robinson, M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with somatization
disorder, but found that Plaintiff had “no permanent
impairment” of her mental functioning. Id. ALJ
Adams further noted that the record showed “scant
treatment for mental health concerns.” Id.
step two analysis is a gatekeeping device used to screen out
weak claims. See Buck v. Berryhill, 869 F.3d 1040,
1048 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987)). At step two, the ALJ must determine
if the claimant suffers from any impairments that are
“severe.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). “An impairment
or combination of impairments may be found ‘not severe
only if the evidence establishes a slight abnormality that
has no more than a minimal effect on an individual's
work.'” Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683,
686-87 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80
F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996)). As long as the claimant has
at least one severe impairment, the disability inquiry moves
on to step three. See 20 C.F.R. §§
has failed to show that the ALJ harmfully erred at step two
in finding that Plaintiff's alleged somatoform disorder
was not a severe impairment. See Ludwig v. Astrue,
681 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir. 2012) (holding that the party
challenging an administrative decision bears the burden of
proving harmful error) (citing Shinseki v. Sanders,
556 U.S. 396, 407-09 (2009)). The record contains indications
of somatization. See, e.g., AR at 314, 478, 502. But
the record also contains evidence that Plaintiff's
alleged somatoform disorder does not impair her ability to
work. See, e.g., id. at 108, 119, 1651-66.
As ALJ Adams noted, Dr. Robinson opined that Plaintiff had
“no permanent impairment” from her somatization
disorder, and was “capable of normal activities,
including gainful employment, without any restrictions
despite physical complaints that suggest otherwise.”
Id. at 1666. Plaintiff has failed to show that ALJ
Adams reached an unreasonable conclusion in agreeing with Dr.