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 Dana C. Madsen. The Defendant is
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney Lars
J. Nelson. 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. 13, and DENIES
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12.
Lisa Renee G. filed for supplemental security income and
disability insurance benefits on September 29, 2015, alleging
an onset date of January 31, 2013. Tr. 196-204. Benefits were
denied initially, Tr. 131-34, and upon reconsideration, Tr.
136-40. A hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) was conducted on February 24, 2017. Tr.
36-72. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at
the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits, Tr. 13-32,
and the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1. The matter is
now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
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 48 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 233. She
graduated from high school and completed four years of
college. Tr. 45, 238. She was in an abusive relationship
three years prior to the hearing, and at the time of the
hearing she lived with a friend “most of the
time.” Tr. 41-42, 49-51, 57. Plaintiff has work history
as a bookkeeper, cashier, receptionist, lube tech, stocker,
and telemarketer. Tr. 44-48, 63-64. She testified that she
could not work because of panic attacks, anxiety, and PTSD.
Tr. 41, 48-49.
testified that she has daily panic attacks that last from a
few minutes to a few hours, depression, nightmares, PTSD, and
anxiety. Tr. 52, 59. She testified that medication helps
“a little bit” with her mental health symptoms.
Tr. 53. Plaintiff reported that she is unable to drive,
unable to grocery shop, does no housework or laundry, and
doesn’t leave her room aside from helping with cooking
“once in a while.” Tr. 54-58, 63.
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,
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),
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).