United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Bao Yang 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 Supplemental 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 of record, the Court recommends that this matter be REMANDED for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1966. She is a native of Laos and did not attend school, with the exception of ESL classes in the United States. (AR 45.) She has past relevant work as a sewing machine operator and poultry eviscerator.
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on June 12, 2010 and protectively for SSI benefits on March 7, 2011, alleging disability beginning November 17, 2008. She is insured for DIB through December 31, 2013. Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration, and she timely requested a hearing.
On December 19, 2011, ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 28-67.) On February 8, 2012 the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from April 1, 1999 through the present. (AR 12-22.)
Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on July 9, 2013 (AR 1-5), 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 December 31, 2013. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder severe. Step three Files, pursuant to the official policy on privacy adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States. 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels but with nonexertional limitations. Plaintiff could perform simple, repetitive tasks and follow short, simple instructions, doing work that needs little or no judgment and the performance of simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period. She has average ability to perform sustained work activities (i.e., can maintain attention and concentration, persistence, and pace) in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule) within customary tolerances of employers rules regarding sick leave and absence. She may have occasional interactions of a superficial nature with co-workers and supervisors and could work in close proximity to co-workers but not in a cooperative or team effort. Plaintiff can deal with occasional work setting changes. Plaintiff cannot deal with the general public, as in a sales position or where the general public is frequently encountered as an essential element of the work process, but incidental contact of a superficial nature with the general public is not precluded. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a poultry eviscerator.
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, ...