United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Naomi Watson 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 this matter be REMANDED for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1952. She has a high school education and two years of college. (AR 223.) She has past relevant work as an information specialist or technical assistant/customer service representative. (AR 26.)
Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 18, 2011, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2006. She is insured for DIB through December 31, 2011. (AR 15.) Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration, and she timely requested a hearing.
On June 20, 2012, ALJ Scott R. Morris held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 35-75.) On August 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled before October 1, 2011, but becoming disabled on that date and continuing to be disabled through the date of decision. (AR 15-28.)
Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 22, 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. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's cardiomyopathy severe prior to October 1, 2011, and plaintiff's cardiomyopathy and depression severe after that date. 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 that, prior to October 1, 2011, plaintiff had the RFC to perform less than the full range of sedentary work. Plaintiff could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, frequently balance, occasionally stoop and kneel, not crouch or crawl, occasionally reach overhead bilaterally, and could have no more than occasional exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, industrial-strength fumes, odors, dust, gasses, or other pulmonary irritants and hazards. Beginning on October 1, 2011, plaintiff had the additional restriction of performing jobs that only involve simple, routine, repetitive tasks.
With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as an information specialist or technical assistant/customer service representative prior to October 1, 2011. After that date, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work. Therefore, the ALJ found plaintiff disabled as of October 1, 2011 and through the date of decision.
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, ...