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Garcia v. Berryhill

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

June 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Steven Garcia 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, this matter is AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1962.[1] He has a limited education and previously worked as a construction worker and wood box maker. (AR 27-28, 41, 55-56.)

         Plaintiff filed an SSI application on October 28, 2013, alleging disability beginning June 15, 2011. (AR 164.) His application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration.

         On March 25, 2015, ALJ James Sherry held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 34-62.) At hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to the October 28, 2013 application date. (AR 38.) On May 12, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 16-29.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 4, 2016 (AR 4-8), 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 severe plaintiff's lumbar degenerative disc disease/stenosis, hypertension, obesity, migraine headaches, antisocial personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found 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 with the following limitations: lift no more than twenty-five pounds occasionally and twenty pounds frequently; stand/walk and sit for approximately six hours out of an eight-hour workday; no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs and stoop; and avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, excessive vibration, and hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. The ALJ also found plaintiff able to understand and remember simple and detailed job instructions and perform simple, routine repetitive tasks and well-learned detailed tasks; maintain attention and concentration for two-hour intervals to complete tasks without more than the normally expected brief interruptions; have brief and superficial interaction with the public and co-workers; and have superficial interaction with supervisors. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform his past relevant work.

         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 the VE, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as a housekeeper, small products assembler, and production assembler.

         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). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal error.”) 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 ...

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