United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
MARK A. WAGONER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF
Johnston, United States Magistrate Judge
Wagoner (Mr. Wagoner) seeks Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) determined Mr. Wagoner has the residual
functional capacity to perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, despite severe
impairments, and, therefore, is not disabled and not entitled
to SSI benefits. The Commissioner's determination is
supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal
error. Therefore, Mr. Wagoner's Motion for Summary
Judgment will be denied, and judgment will be entered in
favor of the Commissioner.
Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The parties consented to the undersigned
conducting all proceedings in this matter, including the
entry of judgment. (Doc. 7) The Great Falls Division of the
District of Montana is the proper venue because Mr. Wagoner
resides in Valley County, Montana. (Doc. 2 at 2); 42 U.S.C.
405(g); Local Rule 1.2(c)(2).
16, 2014, an administrative law judge (ALJ) decided that Mr.
Wagoner was not eligible for disability benefits under Titles
XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 11 at 13-37) On July
14, 2014, Mr. Wagoner timely requested that the Social
Security Administration review the ALJ's decision.
(Id. at 9) The Appeals Council for the Social
Security Administration denied Mr. Wagoner's request for
review on October 30, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. (Id. at 1-4)
Wagoner timely filed a complaint on December 30, 2015,
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.
(Doc. 2) Mr. Wagoner filed an opening brief on June 30, 2016,
requesting that the Court reverse the Commissioner's
decision and order the payment of benefits to him. (Doc. 18)
The Commissioner filed a response brief on July 27, 2016, and
Mr. Wagoner filed a reply brief on October 24, 2016. (Docs.
20 and 29) The motion is ripe for decision.
Court's review is limited. The Court may set aside the
Commissioner's decision only where the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence or where the decision is
based on legal error. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d
1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir.
2006). Substantial evidence has also been described as
“more than a mere scintilla” but “less than
a preponderance.” Desrosiers v. Sec. of Health and
Hum. Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988).
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). This Court must uphold the
Commissioner's findings "if supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record." Batson v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "[I]f evidence exists to
support more than one rational interpretation, " the
Court "must defer to the Commissioner's
decision." Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 (citing
Morgan v. Commissioner, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.
1999)). This Court "may not substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner." Widmark, 454 F.3d at
1070 (quoting Edlund, 253 F.3d at 1156).Where
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision,
the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld. Thomas v.
Barhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).
district court must consider the record as a whole, weighing
both the evidence that supports and detracts from the
Commissioner's conclusion. Green v. Sheckler,
803 F.2d 528, 530 (9th Cir. 1986). The Court may reject the
findings not supported by the record, but it may not
substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner.
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act
if the claimant demonstrates by a preponderance of the
evidence that (1) the claimant has a “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”; and (2) the impairment or impairments
are of such severity that, considering the claimant's
age, education, and work experience, the claimant is not only
unable to perform previous work but also cannot “engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Schneider v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 974 (9th Cir. 2000)
(citing 42 U.S.C. §1382(a)(3)(A)-(B)).
Social Security Administration regulations provide a
five-step sequential evaluation process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. Bustamante v.
Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953 (9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden
of proof for steps one through four, and the Commissioner
bears the burden of proof for step five. Id. at
954. The five steps of the inquiry are:
1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially
gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. If not, proceed to
step two. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If so, proceed to
step three. If not, the claimant is not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
3. Does the impairment “meet or equal” one of a
list of specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 220,
Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, proceed
to step four. See 20 C.F.R. §§
4. Is the claimant able to do any work that he or she has
done in the past? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If
not, proceed to step five. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If so, the
claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).
one, the ALJ determined that Mr. Wagoner has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 10, 2012, the
application date. (Doc. 11 at 15) At step two, the ALJ found
that Mr. Wagoner has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with
radiculopathy, status-post two microdiscectomy procedures,
bipolar disorder, and personality disorder. (Id. at
three, the ALJ found that Mr. Wagoner did not have an
impairment, or combination of impairments, that met or was
medically equal to one of the listed impairments.
(Id. at 18)
considering step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Wagoner
had the following residual functional capacity: he can
perform the light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
416.967(b) with the following limitations: he can walk for
15-30 minutes at one time; he can stand for up to two hours
at one time; he can be on his feet somewhere between four to
six hours total in an eight hour day; he can sit for 30
minutes to one hour at a time, and for at least six hours
total in an eight hour day; he can lift up to 35 pounds on an
occasional basis and 10 pounds or less on a frequent basis;
he should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and
vibration; he cannot climb ladders or scaffolding; he can
perform other postural activities occasionally; he should not
have a job requiring dealing with the public, and any
involvement with the public should only be accidental, brief,
and superficial; he can have minimal close interaction with
six or fewer coworkers; he must work in an environment
without close supervision; he is incapable of high, constant
focus throughout an eight hour day. (Id. at 20)
four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Wagoner has no past
relevant work. (Id. at 36)
five, the ALJ determined that, considering Mr. Wagoner's
age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that Mr. Wagoner could perform and,
therefore, he has not been under a disability since December
20, 2012, the date he filed his application. (Id. at
Mr. Wagoner's position
Wagoner argues the Court should reverse the
Commissioner's decision and order the Commissioner to pay
him SSI benefits because:
1. The ALJ erred in not finding Mr. Wagoner disabled based
upon Medical-Vocational Guidelines Rule 201.09.
2. The ALJ erred by not giving proper weight to his treating
physician's opinion that his impairments preclude him
3. The ALJ erred by not giving proper weight to his treating
therapist's opinion that his mental impairments interfere
with memory, concentration and moods required for work
4. The ALJ erred by making an adverse credibility finding
regarding his pain and symptom testimony because the ALJ
failed to provide clear and convincing reasons supported by
substantial evidence for doing so.
5. The ALJ erred by using his activities of daily living to
find his subjective complaints not credible because the
record shows that his daily activities are very limited and
far less than the ...