United States District Court, E.D. Washington
JAMES W. R., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
H. WHALEY SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, ECF Nos. 12 & 16. Plaintiff brings this action
seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
of the Commissioner's final decision, which denied his
applications for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 1381-1383F,
and his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under
Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-434. See
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 1-3. 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
filed his application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
January 10, 2014, and his application for Supplemental
Security Income on March 30, 2016. AR 18. In both
applications, his alleged onset date of disability is
November 2, 2012. Id. Plaintiff's applications
were initially denied on September 4, 2014, and on
reconsideration on January 7, 2016. Id. A hearing
with Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marie
Palachuk occurred on December 7, 2016. Id. On
January 13, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and
was therefore ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits or
Social Security Income. AR 18-36. On April 27, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
thus making the ALJ's ruling the “final
decision” of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
timely filed the present action challenging the denial of
benefits, on June 7, 2018. ECF Nos. 1 and 3. Accordingly,
Plaintiff's claims are properly before this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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 of such severity that the
claimant is not only unable to do 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. §
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process (“the Process”) for
determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4); Lounsburry v.
Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).
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.
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
three involves a determination of whether any 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.
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.
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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)). Substantial
evidence means “more than a mere scintilla but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d
978, 980 (9th Cir.1997) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala,
53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). In determining whether the Commissioner's
findings are supported by substantial evidence, “a
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir.
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). 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); see
also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002) (if the “evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the conclusion must be
upheld”). Moreover, a district court “may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111. An error
is harmless “where it is inconsequential to the
[ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination.”
Id. at 1115. The burden of showing that an error is
harmful generally falls upon the party appealing the
ALJ's decision. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S.
396, 409-10 (2009).
STATEMENT OF FACTS
facts of the case are set forth in detail in the transcript
of proceedings and only briefly summarized here. Plaintiff
was 44 years old on the alleged disability onset date. AR 34.
He has at least a high school education and is able to
communicate in English. Id. Plaintiff has past
relevant work as a truck driver, truck driver helper,
janitor, and heavy equipment operator. Id. //
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability
within the meaning of the Act at any time from November 2,
2012, the alleged onset date, through January 13, 2017, the
date the ALJ issued her decision. AR 18-36.
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 2,
2012, the alleged onset date. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.). AR
step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea; status
post lap band surgery; status post left shoulder arthroscopy;
psoriatic arthritis; asthma; degenerative disc and joint
disease - lumbar spine; status post right carpal tunnel
release surgery; very mild left carpal tunnel syndrome;
degenerative disc disease - cervical spine; and cyclothymic
disorder (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that met or medically equaled the severity of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. AR 21.
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(b) and 416. 967(b), with the following exceptions:
he can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb ramps or stairs; he could never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; he could occasionally reach overhead with his
left upper extremity; he should avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme temperatures, vibration, and respiratory
irritants; he should avoid all exposure to hazards; he could
understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks or instructions; he could maintain attention
and concentration on simple, routine tasks for two-hour
intervals between regularly scheduled breaks during a
full-time work schedule; and he would require a predictable,
routine environment with no more than occasional and simple
changes. AR 26.
determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant
work as a truck driver, truck driver helper, janitor, and
heavy equipment operator. AR 34.
step five, the ALJ found that in light of
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that he can perform. AR
34-35. These include order clerk - food and beverage, charge
account clerk, and electrical worker. AR 35.
ISSUES FOR REVIEW
argues that the Commissioner's decision is not free of
legal error and not supported by substantial evidence.
Specifically, he argues the ALJ reversibly erred by: (1)
improperly rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints;
(2) improperly rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's
medical providers; (3) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's
severe impairments at step two of the Process; (4) failing to
find Plaintiff's impairments meet or equal a Listing at
step three of the Process; and (5) failing to conduct a
proper step five analysis. ECF No. 12 at 6-7.