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Kuska v. Berryhill

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

October 4, 2017

LUCINDA SUE KUSKA, 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 Lucinda Sue Kuska proceeds pro se in her 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, this matter is AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1971.[1] She has a seventh-grade education, and minimal work history as a housekeeper and waitress. (AR 447.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in July 2011. (AR 414-20.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 259-62, 265-73, 275-77.)

         On February 26, 2013, ALJ Tom Morris held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 47-97.) On January 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 229-44.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, and remanded the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. (AR 250-54.)

         The ALJ held a second hearing on February 5, 2015 (AR 98-26), which was continued on November 10, 2015 (AR 127-98), and he subsequently issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 20-37.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 18, 2017 (AR 1-5), 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 application date. (AR 22.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's “sprains and strains - all types; Essential hypertension; Fractures of lower limb; Affective disorders; Somatoform disorders; Substance issues.” (AR 22-24.) 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 24-25.)

         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 range of sedentary work, with the following additional limitations: she can lift/carry 10 pounds occasionally and frequently. She can stand/walk for a total of about five hours and sit for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday, with normal breaks. She can push/pull occasionally with the right lower extremity. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights, as well as “fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc.” She can perform unskilled work tasks. She can maintain attendance and be punctual. She is off-task about 7% of an eight-hour workday. Her work tasks should not be at a production-rate pace, but be “goal-oriented work.” (AR 25-26.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 36.)

         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 small products assembler, parking lot cashier, and electronic accessory assembler. (AR 36-37.)

         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 ...


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