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Miller v. Colvin

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

February 2, 2015

ROSE TERESA MILLER, 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 Rose Teresa Miller 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 AFFIRMED.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1980.[1] She attended high school through the eleventh grade. (AR 21, 34.) She has past relevant work as a waitress, informal; home attendant; photo checker and assembler; account info clerk; and office assistant. (AR 20.)

Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on February 26, 2011, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2004. At hearing, she amended the alleged onset date to January 1, 2010. (AR 33.) She is insured for DIB through June 30, 2011. Plaintiff's applications were denied at the initial level and on reconsideration, and she timely requested a hearing.

On August 9, 2012, ALJ Wayne N. Araki held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 30-66.) On September 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from January 1, 2010 through the date of decision. (AR 11-22.)

Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 17, 2014 (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.

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 amended alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's Crohn's disease, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder severe. 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 plaintiff able to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). She is able to remember, understand, and carry out instructions or tasks generally associated with occupations with an SVP (Specific Vocational Preparation level) of 1 through 4. She can have frequent interaction with the general public, but should avoid tasks involving persuasion, supervision, mentoring, instructing, or diverting. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past work of home attendant and photo checker and assembler.

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. Although finding plaintiff not disabled at step four, the ALJ proceeded in the alternative and considered the plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in conjunction with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.[2] The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled under the framework of Medical-Vocational Rule 203.26. (AR 21-22.)

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 failed to properly consider the opinions of treating physician Dr. Scott Lee, psychologist Dr. Sanchez, psychiatrist Dr. Romalee Davis, Dr. James Czysz, and the mental health therapist at the Community Psychiatric Clinic. As a result, plaintiff argues, the ALJ failed to consider all medical opinions in determining her RFC. She further argues the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the credibility of her testimony or that of lay witness Jason Vasquez. She requests remand for an award of benefits or, alternatively, for ...


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