United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 15 and 16. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. The plaintiff is
represented by Attorney Chad L. Hatfield. The defendant is
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney
Justin L. Martin. The Court has reviewed the administrative
record, the parties' completed briefing, and is fully
informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court
GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 16, and DENIES
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15.
Norman S. protectively filed for disability
insurance benefits on January 24, 2014. Tr. 140-41. Plaintiff
alleged an onset date of January 1, 2014. See Tr.
379. Benefits were denied initially, Tr. 88-90, and upon
reconsideration, Tr. 92-93. Plaintiff appeared for a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on
July 7, 2017. Tr. 33-67. Plaintiff was represented by counsel
and testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied
benefits, Tr. 12-32, and the Appeals Council denied review.
Tr. 1. The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing
and transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of
Plaintiff and the Commissioner. Only the most pertinent facts
are summarized here.
was 54 years old at the time of the hearing. See Tr.
140. He completed four or more years of college. Tr. 384.
During the relevant time period he lived with his wife.
Plaintiff has work history as a tow truck owner/operator. Tr.
39, 489. He testified that he could not work during the
relevant adjudicatory period because of diabetes, anxiety,
and fatigue. Tr. 45-46.
testified that he has anxiety attacks that cause him to
“shut down” and isolate himself for up to a day
at a time; he is tired “all the time” because he
only gets two to three hours of sleep a night; he is overly
emotional; and he gets “massive” headaches when
he is in public. Tr. 45-47, 51-53. He reported that over the
past few years, he has started to have problems being around
groups of people, and could only spend 10 minutes in Wal-Mart
before he had to leave. Tr. 48-50. Plaintiff testified that
he could not work in an office full-time, because
“it's claustrophobic.” Tr. 55. He reported
that he has a service dog who provides anxiety comfort, and
helps him when he has blood sugar issues or trouble walking.
district court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is
limited; the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed
“only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or
is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698
F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial
evidence” means “relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. at 1159 (quotation and
citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence
equates to “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less
than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and
citation omitted). In determining whether the standard has
been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire
record as a whole rather than searching for supporting
evidence in isolation. Id.
reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. If the
evidence in the record “is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the
ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). Further, a
district court “may not reverse an ALJ's decision
on account of an error that is harmless.” Id.
An error is harmless “where it is inconsequential to
the [ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination.”
Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The
party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the
burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v.
Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).
claimant must satisfy two conditions to be considered
“disabled” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. First, the claimant must be “unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Second,
the claimant's impairment must be “of such severity
that he is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis
to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step
one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful activity, ”
the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
analysis proceeds to step two. At this step, the Commissioner
considers the severity of the claimant's impairment. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant suffers
from “any impairment or combination of impairments
which significantly limits [his or her] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, ” the analysis
proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the
claimant's impairment does not satisfy this severity
threshold, however, the Commissioner must find that the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
three, the Commissioner compares the claimant's
impairment to severe impairments recognized by the
Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude a person from
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment is as severe or more
severe than one of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must find the claimant disabled and award
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
severity of the claimant's impairment does not meet or
exceed the severity of the enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner must pause to assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity.” Residual
functional capacity (RFC), defined generally as the
claimant's ability to perform physical and mental work
activities on a sustained basis despite his or her
limitations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1), is relevant to
both the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis.
four, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
work that he or she has performed in the past (past relevant
work). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
is capable of performing past relevant work, the Commissioner
must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f). If the claimant is incapable of performing such
work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
five, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the
claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing
other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
Commissioner must also consider vocational factors such as
the claimant's age, education and past work experience.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant
is capable of adjusting to other work, the Commissioner must
find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of adjusting
to other work, analysis concludes with a finding that the
claimant is disabled and is therefore entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four
above. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th
Cir. 1999). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to establish that (1) the claimant
is capable of performing other work; and (2) such work
“exists in significant numbers in the national
economy.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful since January 1, 2014, the alleged onset date. Tr.
17. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following
severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
anxiety; depression. Tr. 18. At step three, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a
listed impairment. Tr. 19. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff
has the RFC
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: He can have
occasional contact with the general public and occasional
brief contact with supervisors. He can perform routine and
predictable work with ordinary production requirements.
Tr. 20-21. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is
capable of performing past relevant work as a tow truck
owner/operator. Tr. 26. In the alternative, at step five, the
ALJ found that considering Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, there are other jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
also can perform, including: mail clerk, collator operator,
and printed circuit board assembler. Tr. 26-27. On that
basis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
January 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. Tr. 27.
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying her disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act. ECF No. 15. Plaintiff
raises the following issues for this Court's review:
1. Whether the ALJ erred at step two;
2. Whether the ALJ erred at step ...