United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Susan Arella Bahr proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda of record, the Court recommends that this matter be REMANDED for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1959. She has a high school education and attended the Corrections Officer Academy. (AR 35.) She has past relevant work as a data entry operator, corrections guard, evidence clerk, cashier, caregiver, auditor, and business trainer.
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on May 29, 2009, alleging disability beginning on that date. She is insured for DIB through June 30, 2014. Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration, and she timely requested a hearing.
On October 5, 2011, ALJ Wayne N. Araki held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 32-63.) On December 16, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from May 20, 2009 through the present. (AR 17-25.)
Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on June 14, 2013 (AR 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.
The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000). At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is gainfully employed. The ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of May 20, 2009. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's osteoarthritis of the hands and back disorder severe. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment.
If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found plaintiff able to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(a) with some additional limitations. Plaintiff can lift and carry up to ten pounds. She can stand or walk at thirty-minute intervals for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday. She can sit at two-hour intervals with brief stretch breaks for a total of eight hours per day. Plaintiff can occasionally stoop or climb ramps and stairs. She cannot crouch, kneel, crawl, balance, or climb ladders. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a data entry operator as actually and generally performed.
If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to work that exists in significant levels in the national economy. Finding plaintiff not disabled at step four, the ALJ did not proceed to step five.
This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is more than one rational interpretation, ...