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Kallenbach v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

August 11, 2017

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


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Kallenbach 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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, 1968.[1] He has a GED and an associate's degree in auto and diesel mechanics, and previously worked as an auto mechanic. (AR 38-39, 201.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB in November 2013. (AR 168-71.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 101-07, 109-15.)

         On May 21, 2015, ALJ James Sherry held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 33-78.) On July 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 11-24.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 31, 2017 (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 April 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. (AR 13.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's cervical spine degenerative disc disease (DDD), status post fusion surgeries; lumbar spine DDD, status post laminectomy surgeries; diabetes mellitus; right shoulder arthropathy; digestive disorder; and adjustment disorder with symptoms of depression and anxiety. (AR 13.) 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. (AR 13-16.)

         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 capable of performing a reduced range of light work, with the following additional limitations: he can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand/walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. He needs to change positions between sitting and standing for brief periods every 60 minutes. He can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He can occasionally reach overhead with the upper extremities. He must avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration and hazards in the workplace, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. He can understand and remember simple job instructions, and perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. He can tolerate simple decision-making and simple changes in the work setting. He can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour intervals, without more than the normally expected brief interruptions. He cannot tolerate fast-paced production requirements. He can have superficial interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public. He works best alone or in a small group environment. (AR 17.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his past relevant work. (AR 22-23.)

         If a 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. With the assistance of a VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, including cleaner/polisher; inspector, hand packager; and cleaner, housekeeping. (AR 23-24.)

         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, 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).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in (1) finding that he does not meet Listing 1.04(a); (2) discounting his subjective statements regarding his lumbar impairment; and (2) discounting a statement written by Plaintiff's girlfriend, Heidi Frost. The Commissioner argues that ...

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