Knapp v. Colvin, No. 1:14-cv-3189-FVS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of Washington
Writing for the CourtFred Van Sickle Senior United States District Judge
PartiesSHAUNTE KNAPP Plaintiff, v. CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 1:14-cv-3189-FVS
Decision Date28 October 2015

SHAUNTE KNAPP Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

No. 1:14-cv-3189-FVS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON

October 28, 2015


ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Ct. Rec. 13, 16.) Attorney D. James Tree represents plaintiff; Special Assistant United States Attorney Catherine Escobar represents defendant. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the court GRANTS defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

JURISDICTION

Plaintiff Shaunte Knapp (plaintiff) protectively filed for supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) on September 24, 2010. (Tr. 234, 236, 296.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of March 11, 2010. (Tr. 234, 236.) Benefits were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 139, 143, 147.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held before ALJ Wayne N. Araki on May 3, 2013. (Tr. 37-86.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 39-75.) Vocational expert Kimberly Mullinax also testified. (Tr. 75-85.) The ALJ denied benefits (Tr. 12-28) and the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1.) The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of plaintiff and the Commissioner, and will therefore only be summarized here.

Plaintiff was born June 17, 1969 and was 43 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 234.) She left school in the 11th grade but has a GED. (Tr. 61.) She has work experience troubleshooting

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calls regarding cell phones contracts; pulling cables through ceilings for computer server rooms; selling handheld computers; cutting metal for fabrication (machinist); driving a forklift; and taking store inventory. (Tr. 54-57.) In March 2010 she was involved in an auto accident. (Tr. 50.) She sustained broken limbs and ribs and the car caught on fire. (Tr. 58.) At the time of the accident she was unemployed. (Tr. 58.) She suffers from PTSD. (Tr. 58.) She takes medication for depression, bipolar, ADHD, migraines, pain, and to regulate her bathroom behaviors. (Tr. 43.) Her depression has gotten worse despite being on medication. (Tr. 52.) She has a hard time getting out of her apartment. (Tr. 59.) She testified she cannot handle new conversations or instructions. (Tr. 61.) She says she jumps from subject to subject when talking on the phone. (Tr. 61.) She feels that she cannot handle things. (Tr. 61.) She has a personality disorder. (Tr. 64.) She can only work with her right hand and cannot really use her left hand. (Tr. 61.) She can no longer use a computer. (Tr. 62.) She has pain in her legs. (Tr. 63.) She is angry because she is not capable of doing simple things. (Tr. 62.) She has problems reading and concentrating. (Tr. 73.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of a Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision, made through an ALJ, when the determination is not based on legal error and is supported by substantial evidence. See Jones v. Heckler, 760 F. 2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F. 3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). "The [Commissioner's] determination that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence." Delgado v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 570, 572 (9th Cir. 1983) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975), but less than a preponderance. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 601-602 (9th Cir. 1989); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence "means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citations omitted). "[S]uch inferences and conclusions as the [Commissioner] may reasonably draw from the evidence" will also be upheld. Mark v. Celebrezze, 348 F.2d 289, 293 (9th Cir. 1965). On review, the Court considers the record as a whole, not just the evidence supporting the decision of the Commissioner. Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Kornock v. Harris, 648 F.2d 525, 526 (9th Cir. 1980)).

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It is the role of the trier of fact, not this Court, to resolve conflicts in evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400. If evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence will still be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). Thus, if there is substantial evidence to support the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence that will support a finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of the Commissioner is conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987).

SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

The Social Security Act (the "Act") defines "disability" 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 (d)(1)(A), 1382c (a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a plaintiff shall be determined to be under a disability only if his impairments are of such severity that plaintiff is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering plaintiff's 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). Thus, the definition of disability consists of both medical and vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines if he or she is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I).

If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activities, the decision maker proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied.

If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which 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(a)(4)(ii),

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416.920(a)(4)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled.

If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he or she has performed in the past. If plaintiff is able to perform his or her previous work, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At this step, the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment is considered.

If the claimant cannot perform this work, the fifth and final step in the process determines whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his or her residual functional capacity and age, education and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden is met once the claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents him from engaging in his or her previous occupation. The burden then shifts, at step five, to the Commissioner to show that (1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity and (2) a "significant number of jobs exist in the national economy" which the claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1497 (9th Cir. 1984). If the Commissioner does not meet that burden, the claimant is found to be disabled. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

ALJ'S FINDINGS

At step one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 11, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 14.) At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: affective disorder, anxiety/posttraumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, status post open left ankle fracture dislocation, status post closed left ulnar shaft fracture, status post closed right lateral tibial plateau fracture, status post right lateral meniscus tear, and status post left peroneus tertius rupture. (Tr. 14.) At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff does not have an impairment or...

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