Collins v. Saul, No. 2:2020cv00131 - Document 20 (E.D. Wash. 2021)

Court Description: ORDER Granting 18 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Magistrate Judge John T. Rodgers. (MO, Courtroom Deputy)
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Collins v. Saul Doc. 20 1 2 3 FI LED I N THE U.S. DI STRI CT COURT EASTERN DI STRI CT OF WASHI NGTON 4 Mar 31, 2021 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON SEAN F. MCAVOY, CLERK 7 8 REANNA C., 9 No. 2:20-CV-00131-JTR Plaintiff, 10 v. 11 12 13 14 ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, 15 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Defendant. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 16, 18. Attorney Timothy Anderson represents Reanna C. (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Franco Becia 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. JURISDICTION 24 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on February 23, 2016 and March 7, 2016, respectively, alleging disability since July 1, 2015,1 due to blindness, severe vision 1 Plaintiff later amended her alleged onset date to April 23, 2016. Tr. 39. ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 problems, depression, anger management problems, bipolar, anxiety, 2 endometriosis, bilateral foot injury, learning disorder, and problems focusing. Tr. 3 70-71. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 142-50, 4 154-67. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Timothy Mangrum held a hearing on 5 July 17, 2018, Tr. 35-68, and issued an unfavorable decision on March 13, 2019. 6 Tr. 15-29. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council and the Appeals 7 Council denied the request for review on January 24, 2020. Tr. 1-5. The ALJ’s 8 March 2019 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is 9 appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this 10 11 action for judicial review on March 30, 2020. ECF No. 1. STATEMENT OF FACTS 12 Plaintiff was born in 1993 and was 23 years old as of the amended alleged 13 onset date. Tr. 70. She completed her GED and has work experience in fast food, 14 agricultural sorting, and housekeeping cleaning. Tr. 273-74, 290-93. She has been 15 blind in her left eye since she was young and has struggled with abdominal pain 16 and mental health issues for several years. Tr. 53, 445-46, 459. 17 18 STANDARD OF REVIEW The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in 19 medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 20 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The ALJ’s determinations of law are reviewed de novo, with 21 deference to a reasonable interpretation of the applicable statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 22 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed 23 only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. 24 Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is 25 defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 26 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a 27 reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. 28 Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 2 1 rational interpretation, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the 2 ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 3 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). If substantial evidence supports the 4 administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either 5 disability or non-disability, the ALJ’s determination is conclusive. Sprague v. 6 Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, a decision 7 supported by substantial evidence will be set aside if the proper legal standards 8 were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. 9 Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). 10 11 SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process 12 for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 13 416.920(a); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through 14 four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of 15 entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This burden is 16 met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents the 17 claimant from engaging in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 18 416.920(a)(4). If a claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds 19 to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show (1) the claimant 20 can make an adjustment to other work; and (2) the claimant can perform specific 21 jobs that exist in the national economy. Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 22 F.3d 1190, 1193-94 (9th Cir. 2004). If a claimant cannot make an adjustment to 23 other work in the national economy, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. 24 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). 25 ADMINISTRATIVE FINDINGS 26 On March 13, 2019, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not 27 disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 3 1 2 At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 18. 3 At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe 4 impairments: blindness/low vision left eye; endometriosis; carpal tunnel syndrome, 5 anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse. Id. 6 At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or 7 combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of 8 the listed impairments. Tr. 19-20. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and found 9 10 she could perform light work with the following specific limitations: 11 She may frequently climb stairs and ladders; she may frequently stoop; she would be limited to occasional near and far acuity; she would not be able to read small print or newspapers; she would be restricted to large print only; she would not be able to use a computer screen for any length of time; she would be limited to frequent handling and fingering; and she would be susceptible to hazards in the workplace due to no peripheral vision. In terms of mental functioning, she may not perform jobs with SVP levels greater than two; she may have occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors; and she would be off-task up to 10% of the workday. 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Tr. 21. 20 21 At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a cleaner, housekeeping. Tr. 28-29. 22 23 24 25 26 27 The ALJ thus concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. Tr. 29. /// /// /// 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 4 ISSUES 1 The question presented is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s 2 3 decision denying benefits and, if so, whether that decision is based on proper legal 4 standards. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by making step four findings that were not 5 6 supported by substantial evidence. DISCUSSION 7 8 9 1. Step four A claimant has the burden of showing that she can no longer perform her 10 past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(a), 404.1520(f). Although the 11 claimant has the burden of proof at step four, an ALJ must still make “the requisite 12 factual findings” to support their conclusions. Pinto v. Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 13 844 (9th Cir. 2001). An ALJ’s determination at step four “must be developed and 14 explained fully” and contain the following specific findings of fact: (1) the 15 claimant’s residual functional capacity; (2) the physical and mental demands of the 16 past relevant job/occupation; and (3) that the claimant’s residual functional 17 capacity would permit a return to her past job or occupation. See Social Security 18 Ruling 82-62. 19 Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in finding her capable of returning to her past 20 relevant work as a housekeeper/cleaner, given the vocational expert’s testimony 21 regarding the impact of Plaintiff’s vision limitations. ECF No. 16 at 4-7. Defendant 22 argues the ALJ’s finding is supported by the vocational expert’s testimony and 23 Plaintiff did not meet her burden of establishing that she cannot return to her past 24 relevant work. ECF No. 18 at 7-11. 25 The Court finds the ALJ did not err. The ALJ posed a hypothetical to the 26 vocational expert, matching the eventual RFC finding, and the vocational expert 27 testified that such an individual would be capable of performing the cleaner/ 28 housekeeping position. Tr. 62-63. A discussion ensued regarding the vocational ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 5 1 expert’s disagreement with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which indicated 2 there were no vision requirements for the job, while the vocational expert opined a 3 worker “would need to have some near acuity” to perform the job. Tr. 63. The 4 vocational expert also testified that vision problems “could potentially” cause 5 problems for a housekeeper in avoiding hazards in a room or hallway, but did not 6 change her testimony that someone with the hypothetical limitations could still 7 perform the work. Tr. 65. Therefore, the ALJ’s finding at step four is supported by 8 the vocational expert’s testimony. 9 CONCLUSION 10 Having reviewed the record and the ALJ’s findings, the Court finds the 11 ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error and is 12 affirmed. Therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED: 13 1. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 18, is GRANTED. 14 Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 16, is DENIED. 15 2. 16 The District Court Executive is directed to file this Order and provide a copy 17 to counsel for Plaintiff and Defendant. Judgment shall be entered for Defendant 18 and the file shall be CLOSED. 19 IT IS SO ORDERED. 20 DATED March 31, 2021. 21 22 23 _____________________________________ JOHN T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION . . . - 6