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. 6. The Court, having
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court denies Plaintiffs 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. § 423(d)(1)(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. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step
one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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).
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). 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). 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).
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). 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. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1545(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. § 404.1520(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. §
404.1520(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. §
404.1520(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. § 404.1520(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. §
404.1520(g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of adjusting
to other work, the analysis concludes with a finding that the
claimant is disabled and is therefore entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1560(c)(2); Beltran
v. Astrue, 700 F.3d 386, 389 (9th Cir. 2012).
20, 2016, Plaintiff applied for Title II disability insurance
benefits alleging a disability onset date of March 26, 2015.
Tr. 167-70. The application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 92-98, 100-06. Plaintiff appeared before
an administrative law judge (ALJ) on February 7, 2018. Tr.
35-63. On April 4, 2018, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim. Tr.
one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 26, 2015. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: contusion
right foot, sprain left foot, complex regional pain syndrome
(CRPS), and gout. Tr. 20.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. Tr.
22. The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work with the following limitations:
[Plaintiff] can occasionally lift and carry a maximum of 10
pounds and can frequently lift and carry a maximum of less
than 10 pounds. She can stand and walk for two hours total in
an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. She can sit for six
hours total in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks.
[Plaintiff] can occasionally balance; stoop; crouch; kneel;
crawl; and climb ramps and stairs. She can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can never have
exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights or dangerous
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing her
past relevant work as a program aid and employment
specialist. Tr. 27. Alternatively, at step five, the ALJ
found that considering Plaintiffs 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 charge
account clerk and document preparer. Tr. 27-28. Therefore,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a ...