United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON United States District Judge
THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 11, 14. This matter was submitted for
consideration without oral argument. The Plaintiff is
represented by Attorney Cory J. Brandt. The Defendant is
represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney Lisa
Goldoftas. The Court has reviewed the administrative record
and the parties' completed briefing and is fully
informed. For the reasons discussed below, the court
GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF No. 11, and DENIES
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 14.
Donda P. protectively filed for supplemental
security income and disability insurance benefits on August
18, 2014, alleging an onset date of December 1,
2010. Tr. 282-89. Benefits were denied
initially, Tr. 162-76, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 179-89.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), which was held on February 10,
2017. Tr. 19-64. Plaintiff had representation and testified
at the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits, Tr.
142-61, 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 46 years old at the time of the hearing. See Tr.
146. She graduated from high school, and at one time she had
certification as a nurse assistant. Tr. 24-25, 56. Plaintiff
lives with her boyfriend. Tr. 24. She has work history as a
nurse assistant and salvager. Tr. 26. Plaintiff testified
that she cannot work because of anxiety, depression, and
short-term memory loss. Tr. 26.
testified that she misses a lot of therapy appointments due
to anxiety about being around people, and if it was not for
her daughter she would “probably stay in bed all
day.” Tr. 46-48. She reported that she hoards things,
is “overwhelmed a lot of times”; gets so nervous
around people that she cannot breathe; isolates in her shed;
and forgets where she puts things. Tr. 48-51. Plaintiff
testified that she can read the newspaper “a little
bit” but needs help to understand the words, and cannot
count change at the grocery store. Tr. 53.
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).
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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 ...