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. 12 and 13. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. The Plaintiff is
represented by Attorney Jeffrey Schwab. 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
DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 12, and GRANTS
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 13.
Sharee Rae V. protectively filed for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income on July
22, 2015, alleging an onset date of January 25, 2015. Tr.
224-34. Benefits were denied initially, Tr. 135-42, and upon
reconsideration, Tr. 145-57. Plaintiff appeared for a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on
February 7, 2017. Tr. 41-84. Plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ
denied benefits, Tr. 12-30, and the Appeals Council denied
review. Tr. 1. The matter is now before this court pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 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 23 years old at the time of the hearing. See Tr.
85. She completed high school and attended special education
classes; and she attended one year of community college. Tr.
46, 49, 270, 314. She lived with a friend at the time of the
hearing. Tr. 38, 46. Plaintiff has work history as a cashier.
Tr. 47-48, 72. She testified that she stopped working, and
has not attempted to return to work, because of back pain and
cyclic vomiting syndrome. Tr. 50.
testified that she cannot work because she is not “able
to communicate with others because of [her] bipolar”;
bipolar and back pain make her irritable with people; she has
trouble concentrating; she has trouble sleeping because of
chronic back pain; she has cyclic vomiting syndrome; and she
has depression. Tr. 54-58, 62-64. Plaintiff reported that she
does chores with breaks because of back pain; occasionally
goes grocery shopping and cooks; isolates herself in her
room; and doesn't see people often. Tr. 59-60.
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),
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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
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),
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step one, the Commissioner considers
the claimant's work activity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 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. §§ 404.1520(b), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 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.
§§ 404.1520(c), 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. §§ 404.1520(c), 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.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 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. §§
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),
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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
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. §§ 404.1520(f),
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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
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. §§
404.1520(g)(1), 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. §§ 404.1520(g)(1),
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
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),
416.960(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389
(9th Cir. 2012).
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 25, 2015, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 17. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
the following severe impairments: congenital postural
lordosis, chronic pain syndrome, long-term use of drug, major
depressive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Tr. 18. At
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of ...