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Nu Lai v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

December 1, 2014

NU LAI, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


For Carolyn W Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Kerry Jane Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (SEA), SEATTLE, WA; Catherine Escobar, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, SEATTLE, WA.


Mary Alice Theiler, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Nu Lai 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) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.


Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1951.[1] She attended school in China through junior high and completed English as a Second Language classes up to level three. (AR 46.)

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits on September 20, 2010. (AR 20, 214-24.) That application was denied and plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 144-53, 158-60.)

On February 13, 2012, ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing in Seattle, Washington, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 38-83.) On April 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-37.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on March 15, 2014 (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.


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 January 1, 2008, the alleged onset date. (AR 22.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine/cervalgia, shoulder degenerative joint disease/supraspinatous nerve impingement, bipolar disorder, and anemia to be severe impairments. Id. 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. (AR 23.)

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 capable of performing a sedentary work except as follows. Plaintiff is able to stand and/or walk about two hours in an eight hour workday, can lift ten pounds with the right upper extremity alone or with both extremities together, and can occasionally lift or carry articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools with both upper extremities. Plaintiff has no limitations in pushing or pulling, can frequently reach below shoulder level and seldom reach overhead. Plaintiff can occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch and must avoid constant exposure to vibrations. She can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. Plaintiff is able to do work that requires little or no judgment and is able to perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time. Plaintiff has an average ability to maintain attention, concentration, persistence, and pace to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis within customary tolerances of employers' rules regarding sick leave and absences. Plaintiff can deal with occasional work setting changes and ...

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