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Arndt v. Colvin

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

March 6, 2015

NICHOLAS B. ARNDT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA, Magistrate Judge.

Nicholas B. Arndt seeks review of the denial of his Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits applications. He contends the ALJ erred by (1) finding methamphetamine use to be a factor material to the determination of disability; and (2) failing to appropriately weigh the opinion of examining psychologist Robert Parker, Ph.D. Dkt. 12. As discussed below, the Court recommends the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED and the case be DISMISSED with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Arndt is currently 35 years old, has a GED, and has worked as a customer-service representative. Tr. 79-92. On April 7, 2011, he applied for benefits, alleging disability as of June 1, 2008. Id. His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 81-132. The ALJ conducted a hearing on November 15, 2012, finding Mr. Arndt not disabled because methamphetamine use was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. Tr. 19-31, 36-78. As the Appeals Council denied Mr. Arndt's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-3.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

Where relevant, the ALJ conducts a drug abuse or alcoholism ("DAA") analysis twice: first to determine whether, including the use of drugs or alcohol, the claimant is disabled; and second to determine whether, absent the use of drugs or alcohol, a claimant's disabling limitations remain. 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1535; Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 955 (9th Cir. 2001). Here, following the five-step sequential evaluation process, [1] the ALJ determined at step one that Mr. Arndt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2008; and at step two that Mr. Arndt had the following severe impairments: affective disorder (major depressive disorder), anxiety disorder, and methamphetamine dependence. Tr. 22.

On the first pass through a DAA analysis (including methamphetamine use), the ALJ made the following determinations:

Step three: Mr. Arndt's severe impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"): Including methamphetamine use, Mr. Arndt had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he has sufficient concentration to understand, remember and carry out simple routine tasks for up to 4 hours per day; he can work in coordination with a small group of coworkers (up to 8) and can work in proximity to an unlimited number of coworkers; he can have superficial and occasional face to face contact with the general public; phone contact with the general public is not restricted; he can interact with supervisors occasionally; he can work in coordination with a small group of coworkers (up to 8) and in this manner is unlikely to be a distraction to his coworkers; he can respond to workplace changes consistent with simple routine tasks and complex tasks with an SVP up to 7; he can set workplace goals consistent with simple routine tasks and complex tasks with an SVP up to 7.
Step four: Including methamphetamine use, Mr. Arndt could not do his past work.
Step five: Including methamphetamine use, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Arndt can perform. If his substance dependency is included, Mr. Arndt is disabled.

Tr. 22-25.

On the second pass through a DAA analysis (absent methamphetamine use), the ALJ made the following determinations:

Step two: Absent methamphetamine use, Mr. Arndt's remaining impairments (affective disorder (major depressive disorder) and anxiety ...

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