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Wei v. Berryhill

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

August 7, 2017

SABRINA WEI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER RE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          MARY ALICE THEILER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sabrina Wei proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications 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, this matter is AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1958.[1] She completed one year of college and previously worked as a gambling dealer and cashier. (AR 43, 225.)

         Plaintiff filed SSI and DIB applications in June 2013, alleging disability beginning October 22, 2012. (AR 190-208.) She remained insured for DIB through December 31, 2012 and, therefore, was required to establish disability on or prior to that “date last insured” (DLI) to receive DIB. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.131, 404.321. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On March 25, 2015, ALJ Kimberly Boyce held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 23-51.) On June 18, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from October 22, 2012 through the date of the decision. (AR 10-17.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on August 29, 2016 (AR 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         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 alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff did not have a medically determinable impairment prior to her DLI, but had severe impairments of cervical spine degenerative disc disease and left lateral epicondylitis after her DLI. 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 light work with the following limitations: can stand and walk for about six hours and sit for more than six hours in an eight-hour day with normal breaks; can lift, carry, push, and pull within light exertional limits, except lifting with the non-dominant left upper extremity is limited to occasional; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, frequently stoop and kneel, and occasionally crawl; pending treatment, can frequently reach, handle, and finger with the left upper extremity; and no concentrated exposure to vibration and/or hazards. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier.

         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. Having found plaintiff not disabled at step four, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. The ALJ concluded plaintiff had not been under a disability from her alleged onset date through the date of the decision.

         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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