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Matthew S. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 10, 2019

MATTHEW S., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          STANLEY A. BASTIAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 11, and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12. The motions were heard without oral argument. Plaintiff is represented by David L. Lybbert; Defendant is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Durkin and Special Assistant United States Attorney Ryan Ta Lu.

         Jurisdiction

         On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Plaintiff alleges an onset date of February 7, 2013.

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On July 12, 2017, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a video hearing in which he participated in Wenatchee, Washington before an ALJ presiding in Seattle, Washington. William H. Weiss, vocational expert, provided testimony as well as Plaintiff's mother, Joan Schauerman. The ALJ issued a decision on March 5, 2018. finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on November 15, 2018. The Appeals Council's denial of review makes the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on January 11, 2019. The matter is before this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Sequential Evaluation Process

         The 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if his 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 experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987).

         Step 1: Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activities? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Substantial gainful activity is work done for pay and requires compensation above the statutory minimum. Id.; Keyes v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1053, 1057 (9th Cir. 1990). If the claimant is engaged in substantial activity, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If he is not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.

         Step 2: Does the claimant have a medically-severe impairment or combination of impairments? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. A severe impairment is one that lasted or must be expected to last for at least 12 months and must be proven through objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step 3: Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. Id. If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step. Before considering Step 4, the ALJ must first determine the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). An individual's residual functional capacity is his ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments.

         Step 4: Does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final step.

         Step 5: Is the claimant able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents him from engaging in his previous occupation. Id. ...


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