United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REMANDING FOR ADDITIONAL
T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment.
ECF No. 16, 17. Attorney Dana Chris Madsen represents Sherry
F. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney
Brett Edward Eckelberg represents the Commissioner of Social
Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 8. After reviewing the
administrative record and the briefs filed by the parties,
the Court GRANTS, IN PART, Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment; DENIES
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and
REMANDS the matter to the Commissioner for
additional proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and
Disabled Adult Child (DAC) Disability Benefits on July 8,
2015, alleging disability since April 21, 2005, based on
depression, anxiety, personality disorders, back problems,
dyslexia, learning disability, glaucoma, retinal nerve
thinning, asthma, and possible COPD. Tr. 106, 272-84. The
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Tr. 166-72, 178-89. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) R.J. Payne
held a hearing on February 23, 2017. Tr. 42-103. During the
hearing, Plaintiff's representative withdrew the DAC
claim. Tr. 46-47. On April 24, 2017, the ALJ issued a
decision dismissing the DAC claim and denying the SSI claim.
Tr. 21-35. Plaintiff requested review of the SSI denial from
the Appeals Council. Tr. 265, 385-88. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review of the SSI claim on
June 28, 2018. Tr. 1-5. The Appeals Council additionally
found the record was insufficient to demonstrate that
Plaintiff understood the effects of withdrawing the DAC
claim, and therefore vacated the ALJ's dismissal and
issued an unfavorable decision with respect to the DAC claim.
Tr. 9-11. The ALJ's April 2017 decision thus became the
final decision of the Commissioner with respect to the SSI
claim, and the Appeals Council's action became the final
decision of the Commissioner with respect to the DAC claim,
both of which are appealable to the district court pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for
judicial review on August 27, 2018. ECF No. 1, 6.
was born in 1985 and was 29 years old as of the filing of her
application. Tr. 33. She attended school through the 11th
grade before dropping out due to pregnancy; she completed her
GED in 2014. Tr. 71, 499. She has a limited work history,
consisting primarily of gas station cashiering. Tr. 98-99,
326. She alleged disability based on physical and mental
impairments. Tr. 301.
is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995). The ALJ's determinations of law are reviewed
de novo, with deference to a reasonable
interpretation of the applicable statutes. McNatt v.
Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision
of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error.
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir.
1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a
mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id.
at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v.
Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599
(9th Cir. 1999). If substantial evidence supports the
administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports
a finding of either disability or non-disability, the
ALJ's determination is conclusive. Sprague v.
Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987).
Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence
will be set aside if the proper legal standards were not
applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.
Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services,
839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one
through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to
establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability
benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This
burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or
mental impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If a claimant
cannot perform past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step
five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show (1)
the claimant can make an adjustment to other work; and (2)
the claimant can perform specific jobs that exist in the
national economy. Batson v. Commissioner of Social Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (2004). If a claimant
cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national
economy, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R.
April 24, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 8, 2015, the protected filing
date. Tr. 23.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: low back pain due to minimal degenerative
changes, and asthma. Id. The ALJ additionally found
Plaintiff's mental health impairments and early glaucoma
to be non-severe. Tr. 24-29.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 29.
assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)
and found Plaintiff could perform light exertional level work
with the following specific limitations:
The claimant can lift no more than 20 pounds at a time
occasionally and lift or carry 10 pounds at a time
frequently. She can sit 6 hours, stand 6 hours, or walk 6
hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. She can engage
in occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling, crawling,
balancing, and climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can
have no exposure to heavy industrial-type vibration,
unprotected heights, or hazardous machinery, and should avoid
concentrated exposure to all pulmonary irritants.
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing past