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Johnson v. Berryhill

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

October 3, 2017

LISA A. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Lisa A. Johnson proceeds through counsel[1] 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. / / /


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1967.[2] She completed the ninth grade and previously worked as a deli counter worker, automobile service station attendant, fast-foods worker, cook, and home health aide. (AR 97-100.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB in January 2013 and for SSI in June 2012, alleging disability beginning October 1, 2007. (AR 272-81.) She remained insured for DIB through March 31, 2010, requiring her to establish disability on or prior to that “date last insured” (DLI). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.131, 404.321. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On August 6, 2014, ALJ Laura Valente held a hearing. (AR 41-56.) Because plaintiff appeared without counsel, the ALJ postponed the hearing. The ALJ held a second hearing on May 21, 2015, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 57-107.) Plaintiff appeared at that hearing with counsel and amended the alleged onset date to March 1, 2010. On July 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 14-35.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January 12, 2017 (AR 1-8), 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 amended alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine, anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, and affective disorder. Step three asks whether the 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 lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit eight hours total and stand and walk six hours total in an eight-hour workday; had no postural limitations; could occasionally use right lower extremity to push and pull, such as for operation of foot pedals; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and hazards, such as heights and dangerous moving machinery. The ALJ found plaintiff had sufficient concentration in two-hour increments with usual and customary breaks throughout the day; able to work superficially and occasionally with the general public, meaning she can be a greeter and refer the public to coworkers, but is not herself having to resolve their demands or requests; can work in the same room with an unlimited number of workers, but should not work in coordination with them; and can maintain work attendance and punctuality with simple, repetitive task work and with other restrictions in the RFC. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her 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 small parts assembler, cafeteria attendant, and housekeeping cleaner.

         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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