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Matter v. Colvin

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

December 3, 2014

DEBORA M. MATTER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Debora Matter 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 REVERESED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.


Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1974.[1] (AR 198.) She did not graduate from high school nor did she receive her GED. (AR 35.)

Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on November 6, 2010, alleging disability beginning May 29, 1974. (AR 17, 198-99, 202-07.) Her applications were denied at the initial level and on reconsideration. (AR 102-10, 114-26.)

On December 11, 2012, ALJ David Gatto held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 32-51.) On January 2, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 14-31.)

Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 2, 2014 (AR 1-7), 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 May 29, 1974, the alleged onset date. (AR 19.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found learning disorder/borderline intellectual functioning and anxiety disorder/panic disorder with agoraphobia to be severe impairments. (AR 19-20.) 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 20-21.)

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 demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found plaintiff able to perform work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations: plaintiff is limited to unskilled work and can only have occasional, brief, and superficial contact with the public. (AR 22-25.) With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a maid and cleaner. (AR 25-27.) Finding plaintiff not disabled at step four, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. The ALJ concluded plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the onset date through the date of the 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, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by (1) improperly evaluating whether plaintiff met Listing 12.05C, (2) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons to find plaintiff not credible, and (3) failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons to reject objective evidence. She asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and her claim remanded for an award of benefits. The Commissioner concedes that the ALJ erred in his evaluation ...

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