United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.
William Comstock 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on XXXX, 1963. He completed the eighth grade and
previously worked as a glazier, caulker, and auto windshield
installer. (AR 50, 83, 252.)
protectively filed a DIB application in November 2012,
alleging disability beginning July 1, 2011. (AR 191.)
Plaintiff remained insured for DIB through December 31, 2013
and was required to establish disability on or prior to that
“date last insured” (DLI). See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.131, 404.321. His application was denied
initially and on reconsideration.
4, 2014, ALJ David Johnson held a hearing, taking testimony
from plaintiff, his wife, and a vocational expert (VE). (AR
40-89.) On August 15, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding
plaintiff not disabled. (AR 20-35.)
timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review on February 22, 2016 (AR 9-14), making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to
Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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's left
shoulder abnormality, low back abnormality, recent L5-mid
metatarsal fracture, and sleep apnea severe. The ALJ found no
severe mental impairment. Step three asks whether a
claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment.
The ALJ concluded plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
equal the criteria of a listed impairment.
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 not requiring
more than occasional bending, stooping, crouching, or left
upper extremity pushing or pulling; no more than frequent
reaching, handling, or fingering; and not requiring the need
to grab onto grab bars, railings, or ladders, work overhead
with the left upper extremity, or walk on irregular surfaces.
The ALJ found no past relevant work.
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, solder machine feeder, and tagger. The ALJ also
found that, even if more limited, plaintiff could still
perform the occupations identified, as they are unskilled,
consisting of simple tasks that require little or no
judgment. He noted the VE's testimony the occupations
could still be performed with additional limitations related
to teamwork, interaction, and routine nature of tasks.
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 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.
asserts error in the consideration of medical opinions and
evidence relating to his shoulder impairment, ability to
stand and walk, and mental impairments, and in the rejection
of his wife's testimony. He requests remand for further
proceedings. The Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision
has the support of substantial evidence and should be
Opinions and Evidence
contends the ALJ erred in considering medical opinions from
examining physicians, and in construing medical evidence.
Because the record contained contradictory physician
opinions, the ALJ could only reject the opinion of the
examining physicians with “‘specific and
legitimate reasons' supported by substantial evidence in
the record for so doing.” Lester v. Chater, 81
F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Murray v.
Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)).
is responsible for resolving conflicts in the medical record.
Carmickle v. Comm'r of SSA, 533 F.3d 1155, 1164
(9th Cir. 2008). When evidence reasonably supports either
confirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, the court may
not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett
v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
“Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that
must be upheld.” Morgan v. Commissioner of the
SSA, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999).
February 2013, consultative examiner Dr. Timo Hakkarainen
opined plaintiff could lift twenty pounds occasionally and
ten pounds frequently on the right, and ten pounds
occasionally and frequently on the left; could reach, handle,
and finger without limitation on the right and less than an
hour on the left; should not climb ladders, kneel, crouch, or
crawl; and should not work around heights. (AR 315.)
Plaintiff avers the ALJ erred in rejecting this opinion,
in accepting the contrary opinion of consultative examiner
Dr. Gary Gaffield and the observations of psychological
consultative examiner Dr. Lezlie Pickett.
did not wholly reject the shoulder-related limitations
assessed by Dr. Hakkarainen. He found plaintiff able to
perform light work, which involves lifting no more than ten
pounds frequently, and included limitations to no overhead
work with the left upper extremity, no climbing ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, and no work requiring plaintiff to hold
on to grab bars, railings, or ladders (AR 26, 315.) However,
the RFC allows for occasional lifting of twenty pounds on
both the left and right, occasional left upper extremity
pushing and pulling, and frequent reaching, handling, or
fingering on the left and right. (Id.) The RFC is
consistent with the April 2014 ...