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Shields v. Colvin

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

March 19, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARY ALICE THEILER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Gabriel Shields proceeds through counsel in his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for 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 REMANDED for further proceedings.


Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1992.[1] He completed high school, attending special education classes, and had been attending community college for two years as of March 2012. (AR 39-42.) Although plaintiff previously performed some work activity, it did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity and constitute "past relevant work." (AR 32.)

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI in September 2010, alleging disability beginning June 23, 1992. (AR 154.) His application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

On March 14, 2012, ALJ Verrell Dethloff held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff, his mother, and medical and vocational experts. (AR 37-71.) On March 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled since the SSI application date. (AR 21-33.)

Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 24, 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 the application date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's mixed receptive expressive disorder and phonological 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: he can perform simple, one-to-two step tasks that require only superficial interaction with co-workers, and would benefit from a job that does not change day-to-day. Plaintiff had no past relevant work to consider at step four.

If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no 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. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as a photocopy operator, small parts assembler, sandwich board carrier, farm good loader/light loader, and hand packager.

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, ...

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