United States District Court, E.D. Washington
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ECF NOS. 14, 15
K. DIMKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 15. The parties consented to proceed
before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 8. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiff's motion, ECF No. 14, and
grants Defendant's motion, ECF No. 15.
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
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.
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). 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).
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. § 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.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis
to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step
one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 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. § 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. § 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. § 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. §
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. § 416.920(d).
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. § 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. § 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. §
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. §
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. § 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. §
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. § 416.920(g)(1).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four
above. 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. § 416.960(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).
August 24, 2016, Plaintiff applied for Title XVI supplemental
security income benefits alleging a disability onset date of
August 1, 2012. Tr. 163-73. The application was denied
initially, Tr. 93-96, and on reconsideration, Tr. 98-100.
Plaintiff appeared before an administrative law judge (ALJ)
on December 6, 2017. Tr. 29-65. On March 7, 2018, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 12-28.
one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 24, 2016. Tr. 17. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
borderline personality disorder with anxiety and morbid
obesity. Tr. 17.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of a listed impairment. Tr. 17-18. The ALJ then
concluded that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels with the following
[H]e can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he should
avoid all exposure to unprotected heights; he must have a low
stress environment, defined as only occasional job related
decision making and only occasional changes in the work
setting; work that involves only occasional and superficial
interaction with co-workers and the public, with no tandem
tasks; and work that does not involve crowds. His work should
also be isolated with only occasional supervision/interaction
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past
relevant work. Tr. 23. At step five, the ALJ found that,
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
RFC, and testimony from the vocational expert, there were
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as, field
crop/farm worker, kitchen helper, and housekeeper/cleaner.
Tr. 24. Therefore, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under
a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from the
date of the application though the date of the decision. Tr.
December 28, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review of the
ALJ's decision, Tr. 1-6, making the ALJ's decision
the Commissioner's final decision for purposes ...