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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 1, 2014

TROY MICHELLE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Troy Michelle Johnson proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Social Security Income (SSI) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda, the Court recommends this matter be AFFIRMED.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1971.[1] She completed the eleventh grade of high school and previously worked as a certified nurse assistant, tour guide, hospital admitting clerk, and furniture mover. (AR 42, 66-67.)

Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI in August 2009, alleging disability since September 1, 2007. (AR 140, 145.) Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and she timely requested a hearing.

ALJ Stephanie Martz held a hearing on August 30, 2011, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 37-72.) On October 5, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 16-29.) Plaintiff timely appealed.

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on May 31, 2013 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

DISCUSSION

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. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's fibromyalgia, status post carpal tunnel syndrome with status post carpal tunnel release, depressive disorder, anxiety/panic disorder, and history of drug use severe. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found 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 had the RFC to perform light work, specifically: she can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk about six hours in eight-hour day, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour day; and she can occasionally climb and frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The ALJ also found plaintiff can perform simple routine tasks and some familiar detailed tasks, and should work away from the public, but can have occasionally brief and superficial contact with coworkers and supervisors. With this RFC, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work.

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. Considering the Medical-Vocational Guidelines and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy plaintiff could perform, such as work as a stuffer, hand bander, surveillance system monitor, and selected security guard positions. The ALJ, therefore, concluded plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision.

This Court's review of the final 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, ...


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