United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.
Kristy Lena Williams 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 (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, this matter is REVERSED
and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on XXXX, 1985. She graduated from high school and has
some college education as well as training as an emergency
medical technician, and has worked as an in-home caregiver,
firefighter, emergency medical technician, restaurant
cook/server, and bartender. (AR 312.)
protectively applied for DIB and SSI on September 11, 2012.
(AR 275-92.) That application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing.
(AR 164-78, 181-95.)
January 12, 2015, ALJ Robert F. Campbell held a hearing,
taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE).
(AR 48-81.) On March 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 19-40.) Plaintiff timely
appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review on August 11, 2016 (AR 1-4), making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this
Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 alleged onset date.
(AR 21.) At step two, it must be determined whether a
claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found
severe Plaintiff's polysubstance abuse (of cannabis,
methamphetamine, and alcohol), major depressive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and
personality disorder. (AR 22-27.) Step three asks whether a
claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, including the
substance abuse disorders, met the criteria of Listings
12.04, 12.06, and 12.09. (AR 28-29.)
then separated out the effects of Plaintiff's substance
abuse, and found that if Plaintiff stopped substance use, she
would still have severe impairments, but they would not meet
or equal a listed impairment. (AR 29-30.) The ALJ next
assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC),
assuming she stopped using substances, to determine at step
four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to
perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable
of performing a full range of work at all exertional levels,
with the following non-exertional limitations: she is limited
to simple, routine work. She can have occasional superficial
contact with a supervisor for daily quality checks on work,
and can have superficial contact with coworkers, but no
teamwork or collaboration with them. She cannot have public
contact. (AR 30.) With that assessment, the ALJ found that if
Plaintiff stopped using substances, she would be unable to
perform past relevant work. (AR 38-39.)
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. The ALJ found that if Plaintiff stopped
using substances, she could transition to other
representative occupations, including janitor and laundry
worker. (AR 39-40.)
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).
argues the ALJ erred in (1) failing to account for all
limitations indicated by the State agency consultants, whose
opinions were purportedly credited; (2) discounting the
opinions of three psychologists; (3) discounting
Plaintiff's subjective testimony; and (4) failing to
include all RFC assessment limitations in the VE
hypothetical. The ...