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Kenneth B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

November 19, 2019

KENNETH B., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER RULING ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kenneth B. appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. He alleges that the ALJ (1) improperly rejected the opinions of an examining physician, (2) improperly discounted Plaintiff's symptom testimony, (3) improperly discounted the testimony of Plaintiff's wife, and (4) improperly found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work at step four. The Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) asks the Court to affirm the ALJ's Decision.

         Before the Court, without oral argument, are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, ECF Nos. 10, 11. Upon reviewing the administrative record, the parties' briefs, and the relevant authority, the Court is fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds no error in the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. Accordingly, the Court grants the Commissioner's motion and denies Plaintiff's motion.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits on April 16, 2018. AR 191.[2] The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application on October 28, 2016. AR 119-22. Plaintiff requested, and the Commissioner denied, reconsideration. AR 123-28. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before ALJ Carolina Siderius. AR 62-91. The ALJ denied Plaintiff benefits on March 14, 2018. AR 27-43. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 28, 2018. AR 1-7. Plaintiff then appealed to this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 1.

         DISABILITY DETERMINATION

         A “disability” is defined 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). The decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

         Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past by examining the claimant's residual functional capacity, or RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth step.

         Step five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant cannot, the disability claim is granted.

         The burden of proof shifts during this sequential disability analysis. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show (1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity, and (2) that a “significant number of jobs exist in the national economy, ” which the claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1984). A claimant is disabled only if his impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         ALJ FINDINGS

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. AR 32.

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had three medically determinable severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and general anxiety disorder with panic features. Id. The ALJ did not find that Plaintiff's antisocial personality disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder were severe impairments, and found that Plaintiff's complaint of back pain was not a medically ...


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