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Roberts v. Berryhill

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

September 21, 2017

OM ROBERTS, 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 Om Roberts 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, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this matter is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1970.[1] He has a GED and some college education, and has worked as a construction laborer, recycler, and telemarketer. (AR 47-49, 220.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI in March 2013. (AR 88, 183-88.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 102-09, 113-23.)

         On September 24, 2014, ALJ Ilene Sloan held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 41-74.) On February 11, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 21-35.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 29, 2016 (AR 8-13), 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 March 13, 2013, the application date. (AR 26.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's hepatitis C, schizoaffective disorder, “bipolar type”, and anxiety-related disorders. (AR 23-24.) 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 24-26.)

         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 medium work, with additional limitations. He can have superficial contact with the general public and coworkers. He can adjust to simple changes in the workplace environment. He can maintain persistence, focus, and attention for two-hour intervals before requiring a fifteen-minute break. (AR 26.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his past relevant work. (AR 33.)

         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. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, including office helper, mail room clerk, and marking clerk. (AR 33-34.)

         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 his headaches non-severe and his attention ADHD not medically determinable at step two, (2) discounting certain medical and lay opinions, and (3) failing to account for limitations caused by his hepatitis C in the RFC assessment. The Commissioner argues ...


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