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Caffall v. Berryhill

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

November 2, 2017

SCOTT R. CAFFALL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Scott R. Caffall proceeds through counsel in his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiffs applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for a finding of disability.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1958.[1] He has a high school diploma, and has worked as a dish washer, prep cook, fish freezer, forklift operator, and weeder. (AR 58, 340, 418.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI and DIB in March 2010. (AR 102-03, 308-15.) Those applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 144-48, 150-57.)

         ALJ Joanne Dantonio held a hearing, but Plaintiff failed to appear and the ALJ subsequently dismissed his request for a hearing. (AR 135-36.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request for review, finding that because the hearing notices were sent to the incorrect address, he had good cause for his failure to appear. (AR 138.) The Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ to allow Plaintiff another opportunity for a hearing. (AR 138-39.)

         The ALJ held a hearing on December 17, 2014, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 53-99.) On June 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 30-42.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on November 21, 2016 (AR 1-10), 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 worked since his amended alleged onset date, but that the work did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity. (AR 32.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiffs methamphetamine abuse (in current remission), cannabis abuse (in reported current remission), alcohol abuse (in uncertain remission), reading disorder, mathematics disorder, written expression disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. (AR 32-34.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 34-36.)

         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 medium work, with the following additional limitations: he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can only occasionally climb ramps. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and balance. He must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants and vibrations. He is limited to simple, routine tasks that do not require reading, writing, or doing math. He can work with less than occasional changes in work tasks. (AR 37.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as an industrial truck operator. (AR41.)

         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. Because the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. (AR 41-42.)

         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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