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Crawford v. Berryhill

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

November 14, 2017

RONALD CRAWFORD, 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 Ronald Crawford 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1949.[1] He has a high school diploma and some college education, and has worked as a sales associate and contract manager at Home Depot, and as a construction laborer. (AR 54, 193, 298.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB in December 2013. (AR 159-65.) His date last insured (DLI) is December 31, 2014. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 102-04, 106-07, 112.)

         On September 9, 2015, ALJ David Johnson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 47-79.) On November 12, 2015 the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled before his DLI. (AR 30-42.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 31, 2017 (AR 1-9), 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 between his amended alleged onset date and his DLI. (AR 32.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity were severe through the DLI. (AR 32.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 33.)

         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 that through the DLI, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work, with additional limitations: he can occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He cannot have concentrated exposure to wetness, pulmonary irritants, or hazards (such as open machinery or unprotected heights). (AR 33.) With that assessment, the ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a sales representative (building equipment). (AR 41-42.)

         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 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. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in (1) assessing medical opinion evidence, (2) discounting Plaintiff's subjective testimony, and (3) discounting lay evidence.[2] Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed in light of evidence submitted for the first time to the Appeals Council. The Commissioner ...


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