United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge
Johnny James Strong has brought this matter for judicial
review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications
for disability insurance and supplemental security income
(SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this
matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule
MJR 13. Because the ALJ erred in determining that Mr. Strong
could perform his past relevant work, the Court finds that
the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits should be
reversed, and that this matter should be remanded for further
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 30, 2012, Mr. Strong filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI
benefits, alleging in both applications that he became
disabled beginning September 30, 2011. Dkt. 9, Administrative
Record (AR) 153. His applications were denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. A
hearing was held on June 24, 2013, before an administrative
law judge (ALJ), at which Mr. Strong appeared and testified
as did a vocational expert. AR 52-79.
decision dated July 22, 2013, the ALJ found that Mr. Strong
could perform his past relevant work and therefore that he
was not disabled. AR 153-61. On February 6, 2015, the Appeals
Council granted Mr. Strong's request for review, vacated
the ALJ's decision, and remanded the matter for further
administrative proceedings. AR 168-70.
remand, a second hearing was held before the same ALJ, at
which Mr. Strong appeared and testified, as did a different
vocational expert. AR 80-113. In a decision dated June 29,
2015, the ALJ again found Mr. Strong could perform his past
relevant work, and therefore that he was not disabled. AR
18-29. Mr. Strong's request for review was denied by the
Appeals Council on September 9, 2016, making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision. The plaintiff
then appealed in a complaint filed with this Court on
November 2, 2016. AR 1; Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Strong seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand
for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ
erred: (1) in discounting Mr. Strong's credibility
concerning his symptoms and limitations; and (2) in finding
Mr. Strong could perform his past relevant work. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court agrees the ALJ erred in
finding Mr. Strong could perform his past relevant work, and
therefore finds this matter should be remanded for further
administrative proceedings on that basis.
Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld if the “proper legal
standards” have been applied, and the
“substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports” that determination. Hoffman v.
Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see
also Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772
F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991). “A decision
supported by substantial evidence nevertheless will be set
aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in
weighing the evidence and making the decision.”
Carr, 772 F.Supp. at 525 (citing Brawner v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Sers., 839 F.2d 432, 433
(9th Cir. 1987)). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted);
see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193.
Commissioner's findings will be upheld “if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Substantial
evidence requires the Court to determine whether the
Commissioner's determination is “supported by more
than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a
preponderance of the evidence is required.”
Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10
(9th Cir. 1975). “If the evidence admits of more than
one rational interpretation, ” that decision must be
upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th
Cir. 1984). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the
Court “must affirm the decision actually made.”
Allen, 749 F.2d at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation
process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, § 416.920. If the claimant is
found disabled or not disabled at any particular step
thereof, the disability determination is made at that step,
and the sequential evaluation process ends. See Id.
At step four of that process, the ALJ found Mr. Strong could
perform his past relevant work as a house officer and an
airline security representative, both as Mr. Strong actually
performed them and as they are generally performed. AR 28.
Mr. Strong argues the ALJ erred in doing so. The Court
Mr. Strong worked as a cruise ship screener, the vocational
expert classified that past job as airline security
representative. AR 106, 324. Airline security representative
is described by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT)
as light work, which involves lifting no more than 20 pounds
occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. DOT 372.667-010, 1991
WL 673094; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b); 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b). The ALJ also limited Mr. Strong to light work. AR
Strong reported that as a cruise ship screener that he
“would have to pick up luggage at hotels and
carry” it, and that the heaviest weight he lifted was
50 pounds. AR 322, 324. Mr. Strong further reported that he
had to place and carry baggage for passengers, and place and
lift it on and off of x-ray devices. AR 322. In addition, Mr.
Strong reported he spent a total of three to four hours per
day handling, grabbing, or grasping large objects. AR 322,
324. Thus, it is not at all clear that lifting more than 20
pounds “was not a regular customary part of his
job” as the ALJ found. AR 28.
Commissioner argues the ALJ may have erred in finding Mr.
Strong performed the job of cruise ship screener as it was
actually performed, but Mr. Strong could still perform that
job as it is generally performed. As Mr. Strong points out,
though, the vocational expert testified that although he had
not seen the lifting of luggage typically being done in
performing the airline security representative, he had been
on a cruise and had seen screeners lifting luggage. AR ...