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Duane M. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 30, 2019

DARIN DUANE M., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT H. WHALEY, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 12, 13. Plaintiff brings this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision, which denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-434, and his application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §1381-1383F. See Administrative Record (AR) at 1, 16, 27. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court is now fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff filed his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on September 15, 2015. See AR 16, 228-239, 241-255. His initial alleged onset date of disability was January 1, 2009, which he later amended to March 1, 2015. AR 16, 47, 228. Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on January 21, 2016, see AR 141-149, and on reconsideration on March 15, 2016. See AR 153-164. Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing on March 27, 2016. AR 165-66.

         A hearing with Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mark Kim occurred on May 2, 2017. AR 16, 44, 46. On July 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act and was therefore ineligible for disability benefits or supplemental security income. AR 13-27. On April 9, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, AR 1-7, thus making the ALJ's ruling the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         On June 7, 2018, Plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the denial of benefits. ECF No. 3. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims are properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Social Security Act defines disability as the “inability 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if the claimant's impairments are so severe that the claimant is not only unable to do his or his previous work, but cannot, considering claimant's age, education, and work experience, engage in any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Step one inquires whether the claimant is presently engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Substantial gainful activity is defined as significant physical or mental activities done or usually done for profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572, 416.972. If the claimant is engaged in substantial activity, he or she is not entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571, 416.920(b). If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.

         Step two asks whether the claimant has a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). A severe impairment is one that has lasted or is expected to last for at least twelve months, and must be proven by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508-09, 416.908-09. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied and no further evaluative steps are required. Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three involves a determination of whether one of the claimant's severe impairments “meets or equals” one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be sufficiently severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526 & 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926; 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1 (“the Listings”). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is per se disabled and qualifies for benefits. Id. If the claimant is not per se disabled, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four examines whether the claimant's residual functional capacity enables the claimant to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, the claimant is not entitled to disability benefits and the inquiry ends. Id.

         Step five shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy, taking into account the claimant's age, education, and work experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(f), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c) & 416.912(f), 416.920(g), 416.960(c). To meet this burden, the Commissioner must 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); 416.960(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir. 2012).

         III. Standard of Review

         A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is limited, and 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 1144, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing § 405(g)). In reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). When the ALJ presents a reasonable interpretation that is supported by the evidence, it is not the role of the courts to second-guess it. Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001). Even if the evidence in the record is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, if inferences ...


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