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. 9 and 12. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. The Plaintiff is
represented by Attorney Dana C. Madsen. The Defendant is
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney Lisa
Goldoftas. 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. 12, and DENIES
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 9.
James Joseph S. protectively filed for supplemental
security income on July 8, 2015, alleging an onset date of
March 15, 2004. Tr. 177. Benefits were denied initially, Tr.
123-30, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 134-40. Plaintiff
appeared for a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) on February 21, 2017. Tr. 34-64.
Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the
hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits, Tr. 12-33, and
the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1. The matter is now
before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
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 38 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 38. He has
his GED. Tr. 38. He lives with his mother, stepdaughter,
daughter, and grandchild. Tr. 38. Plaintiff has work history
as a foundry laborer. Tr. 50, 61. He testified that he cannot
perform his past work because he has fatigue, PTSD, anxiety,
and depression. Tr. 42.
testified that he has strength problems in his hands,
fatigue, MRSA, Hepatitis C, right shoulder weakness, PTSD,
depression, mood swings. Tr. 47-48, 55-58. He testified that
he had a head injury in 2010 that required hospitalization,
and since that injury he has experienced migraine headaches
three to five times per week. Tr. 53-54. Plaintiff reported
that he can walk one to two miles at a time, stand in a line
“all day if [he has] to, ” bend over to pick
things up, and lift 50 pounds maximum. Tr. 56-57.
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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step
one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. §
416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.945(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. § 416.920(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. §
416.920(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. §
416.920(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. § 416.920(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. §
416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.960(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).