United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR AWARD OF BENEFITS
THERESA L. FRICKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Ann Ryabov has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.
The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the
undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision denying benefits and remands for
an award of benefits.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ryabov filed an application for disability insurance benefits
on May 6, 2013, and another one for SSI benefits on September
12, 2013, alleging in both applications that she became
disabled beginning January 20, 2013. Dkt. 11, Administrative
Record (AR) 20. Both applications were denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. A
hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ), at
which Ms. Ryabov and a vocational expert appeared and
testified. AR 40-85.
written decision on April 7, 2015, the ALJ found that Ms.
Ryabov could perform her past relevant work and therefore was
not disabled. AR 20-34. The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Ryabov's request for review on October 7, 2016, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. AR 1. Ms. Ryabov then appealed that decision in
a complaint filed with this Court on December 14, 2016. Dkt.
3; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Ryabov seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand
for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ
(1) in not finding certain conditions to be severe
(2) in evaluating the medical evidence;
(3) in discounting Ms. Ryabov's credibility;
(4) in assessing Ms. Ryabov's residual functional
(6) in finding Ms. Ryabov could perform other jobs existing
in significant numbers in the national economy.
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ erred
in discounting Ms. Ryabov's testimony on her subjective
symptoms, and therefore in assessing her RFC and finding her
not disabled. Accordingly, the Court reverses the decision to
deny benefits and remand this matter for further
Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation
process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.520, 416.920. If the ALJ finds the
claimant disabled or not disabled at any particular step, the
ALJ makes the disability determination at that step and the
sequential evaluation process ends. See id. At issue
here is the ALJ's weighing of different pieces of medical
evidence, his determination at step two that certain
conditions are not severe impairments, his discounting of Ms.
Ryabov's testimony on her subjective symptoms, and his
resulting assessment of Ms. Ryabov's RFC and conclusion
that she can perform jobs in the national economy.
Court affirms an ALJ's determination that a claimant is
not disabled if the ALJ applied “proper legal
standards” in weighing the evidence and making the
determination and if “substantial evidence in the
record as a whole supports” that determination.
Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir.
1986). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Trevizo v.
Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 2017 WL 4053751, at *6 (9th
Cir. Sept. 14, 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir.
1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere
scintilla, '” though “‘less than a
preponderance'” of the evidence. Id.
(quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).
Court will thus uphold the ALJ's findings if
“inferences reasonably drawn from the record”
support them. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If more
than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the
evidence, then this Court must uphold the ALJ's
interpretation. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579
(9th Cir. 1984).
The ALJ's Step Two Determination
two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ must
determine if an impairment is “severe.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. In this case, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Ryabov had three severe impairments:
trigeminal neuralgia, migraines, and obesity. AR 22.
Ryabov contends that the ALJ erred in failing to find
anxiety, depression, and episodes of syncope to be severe
impairments at step two. She argues that the ALJ performed
only a cursory analysis of her impairments that ignored
medical evidence showing she suffered from anxiety and
depression and that they limited her ability to work.
See AR 358, 368-69, 373, 386, 403, 405-09, 416, 453,
457, 461, 465, 482. She also contends the ALJ ignored
evidence that syncope was a severe impairment. AR 345-47,
361, 364, 428, 465, 481, 495, 565. The Court disagrees, and
holds that the ALJ's decision concerning severe
impairments at step two was correct. Even assuming, for
purposes of argument, that any of the errors alleged by Ms.
Ryabov had occurred, such error would have been harmless.
impairment is “not severe” if it does not
“significantly limit” a claimant's mental or
physical abilities to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); Social
Security Ruling (SSR) 96-3p, 1996 WL 374181, at *1. Basic
work activities are those “abilities and aptitudes
necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1521(b), 416.921(b); SSR 85- 28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3. An
impairment is not severe if the evidence establishes only a
slight abnormality that has “no more than a minimal
effect on an individual[']s ability to work.” SSR
85-28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3; Smolen v. Chater, 80
F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996); Yuckert v. Bowen,
841 F.2d 303, 306 (9th Cir. 1988).
step two inquiry is a de minimis screening device
used to dispose of groundless claims. Smolen, 80
F.3d at 1290. The Ninth Circuit recently emphasized that this
inquiry “is not meant to identify the impairments that
should be taken into account when determining the RFC.”
Buck v. Berryhill, 869 F.3d 1040, 1048-49 (9th Cir.
2017) (rejecting claim that ALJ erred after second hearing,
where ALJ found new severe impairments but did not change
court noted that in assessing a claimant's RFC an ALJ
“must consider limitations and restrictions imposed by
all of an individual's impairments, even those that are
not ‘severe.'” Buck, 869 F.3d at
1049 (citing Titles II & XVI: Assessing Residual
Functional Capacity in Initial Claims, Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5 (S.S.A. July
2, 1996)). Thus, the RFC “should be exactly the