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. 10 and 12. 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
Joseph J. Langkamer. 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. 10.
Donnie Lee H. filed for supplemental security income and
disability insurance benefits on September 29, 2015, alleging
an onset date of February 1, 2013. Tr. 577-87. Benefits were
denied initially, Tr. 499-503, and upon reconsideration, Tr.
506-13. A hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) was conducted on February 8, 2017. Tr.
389-424. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified
at the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits, Tr.
346-65, 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 39 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 358, 605. He
graduated from high school, completed a CNA class in 2003,
and testified that he tried to go to college for his AA
degree. Tr. 394, 610. He lives with his parents for six
months out of the year, and by himself for six months of the
year. Tr. 394. Plaintiff served in the U.S. Navy for four
years. Tr. 394. Plaintiff has work history as a fast food
cashier, home attendant, nurse aide, maintenance mechanic,
dump truck driver, and station attendant. Tr. 411-15. He
testified that he could not work or go to school during the
relevant adjudicatory period because of trouble focusing and
concentrating, and chronic nausea. Tr. 396-97.
testified that he can only walk twenty minutes before he has
to sit; he can sit up to thirty minutes before he has to get
up or change position; gets four to five hours of sleep a
night; has depression; has anxiety attacks when he leaves the
house; is forgetful; has blurry vision for periods of time
due to his blood sugar; has memory loss; experiences stress
and anxiety; has muscle spasms and cramps; has feet numbness
and pain; and has balance issues. Tr. 398-400, 404-409. He
also testified that he walks his dog less than a quarter
mile, doesn't do any heavy lifting, does chores in small
increments, and does not drive because of his diabetes. Tr.
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 ...