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Timothy D. v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

November 12, 2019

TIMOTHY D., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 14, 15. Attorney Dana Chris Madsen represents Timothy D. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey R. McClain represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 4. After reviewing the administrative record and the briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on December 31, 2015, alleging disability since May 29, 2010, [2] due to PTSD, major depressive disorder, adjustment disorder, acute social anxiety disorder, ADHD, COPD, umbilical hernia, tinnitus, left hand cramping, and difficulties with balance. Tr. 146-47. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 191-93, 195-96. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palachuk held a hearing on May 24, 2017, Tr. 89-119, and issued an unfavorable decision on September 26, 2017, Tr. 16-32. Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council. Tr. 259, 349-54. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on July 30, 2018. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's September 2017 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on September 27, 2018. ECF No. 1, 5.


         Plaintiff was born in 1958 and was 57 years old as of his date last insured in 2015. Tr. 30. He has a high school diploma and an associate's degree in electronics from Spokane Community College. Tr. 101, 375. He worked for many years as an ATM repairman. Tr. 103, 385, 515. In 2010, he was dismissed from his job due to errors. Id. He reported an inability to continue working due to declining cognitive abilities. Tr. 386, 397, 407, 536. He applied for disability in 2011 and was denied by an ALJ in 2013. Tr. 123. He testified that since his prior application, his balance had gotten worse, and he continued to be limited by breathing problems, headaches, abdominal pain, hand cramping, and mental health difficulties. Tr. 103-09.


         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The ALJ's determinations of law are reviewed de novo, with deference to a reasonable interpretation of the applicable statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either disability or non-disability, the ALJ's determination is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence will be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988).


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This burden is met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If a claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show (1) the claimant can make an adjustment to other work; and (2) the claimant can perform specific jobs that exist in the national economy. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2004). If a claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work in the national economy, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).


         On September 26, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date through the date last insured of December 31, 2015. Tr. 19.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, history of umbilical hernia, and mild obesity. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 19-23.

         The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and found he could perform work at the medium exertional ...

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