United States District Court, W.D. Washington
DANIEL L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
P. DONOHUE CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Daniel L. Smith appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) which denied his applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-33 and 1381-83f, after a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and
REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was a
twenty-four year old man with a high school education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 50, 151.
Plaintiff testified that he was in special education courses
in school. AR at 50. Plaintiff received SSI disability
benefits as a child, which ceased when he turned eighteen.
Dkt. 12 at 2. After high school, he enrolled with the
Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
(“DVR”), which placed him in three jobs: Walmart
courtesy associate, shopping cart wrangler, and housekeeper.
These work attempts were all ultimately unsuccessful. AR at
31. In November 2013, DVR determined that plaintiff is
“unemployable in competitive employment” due to
the combination of his physical impairments and intellectual
limitations, including “the inability to do any
standing and [his] serious limitations in reading, spelling
and math[.]” AR at 420. Plaintiff was last gainfully
employed in 2013 performing janitorial duties at a mall in
Federal Way. AR at 51.
October 25, 2013, plaintiff filed a claim for SSI payments
and DIB, alleging an onset date of July 10, 2012. AR at 16,
294-311. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due
to an intellectual disorder, bilateral club feet, severe
generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, learning
disorder, left ankle derangement, left pes cavus, obesity,
and major depressive disorder. AR at 19, 670.
Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 132, 150-52, 169. Plaintiff requested
a hearing, which took place on May 20, 2015. AR at 44-91. On
August 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff
not disabled and denied benefits based on his finding that
plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 13-33.
Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals
Council, AR at 1-7, making the ALJ's ruling the
“final decision” of the Commissioner as that term
is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On April 26, 2017,
plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 3.
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
Court may direct an award of benefits where “the record
has been fully developed and further administrative
proceedings would serve no useful purpose.”
McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir.
2002) (citing Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292
(9th Cir. 1996)). The Court may find that this occurs when:
(1) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient reasons
for rejecting the claimant's evidence; (2) there are no
outstanding issues that must be resolved before a
determination of disability can be made; and (3) it is clear
from the record that the ALJ would be required to find the
claimant disabled if he considered the claimant's
Id. at 1076-77; see also Harman v. Apfel,
211 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000) (noting that erroneously
rejected evidence may be credited when all three elements are
claimant, Mr. Smith bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111,
1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act
defines disability as the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or
mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last,
for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant
is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such
severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in
the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A);
see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99
(9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the
burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a
claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence,
the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent
steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is,
disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant
must establish that he has one or more medically severe
impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If
the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets
or equals any of the listed impairments described in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the
listings for the required twelvemonth duration requirement is
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner
evaluates the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can
still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the opposite is true,
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, taking into
consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the
Commissioner finds the claimant is unable to perform other
work, then the claimant is found disabled and benefits may be
August 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2014.
2. Born on XXXXX, 1990, the claimant had not attained age 22
as of July 10, 2012, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 10, 2012, the alleged onset date.
4. Prior to attaining age 22, and until the present day, the
claimant had and has the following severe impairments:
generalized anxiety disorder, mild intellectual disability,
history of ADHD, history of specific learning disability,
adjustment disorder, learning disorder, rule out cognitive
disorder, bilateral club feet, left ankle derangement, left
pes cavus, and obesity.
5. Prior to attaining age 22, and until the present day, the
claimant did not and does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, prior to attaining age 22 and until
the present day, the claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work, as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b). and 416.967(b)., that does not require standing
or walking more than 30 minutes at a time or more than two
hours total during a workday; that does not require more than
occasional balancing, stooping, crouching, or climbing of
ramps or stairs; that does not require more than frequent
kneeling or crawling; that does not require climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and that is low stress meaning
it does not require exposure to hazards such as open
machinery or unprotected heights, it does not require
concentrated exposure to vibration, it consists of simple,
routine tasks, and it does not require more than occasional
adaption to changes.
7. The claimant has no past relevant work.
8. The claimant was born on XXXXX, 1990 and was 21 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
alleged disability onset date.
9. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
10. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the
claimant does not have past relevant work.
11. Prior to attaining age 22, and until the present day,
considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
12. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from July 10, 2012, through ...