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Leskela v. Berryhill

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

November 17, 2017

MICHAEL JOHN LESKELA, JR., 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 Michael John Leskela, Jr., 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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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, 1972.[1] He has a high school diploma, and has worked as a painter, Salvation Army bell ringer, temporary laborer, and retail and grocery stocker. (AR 41, 343.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in August 2013. (AR 297-305.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 142, 155, 195-97.)

         On July 1, 2015, ALJ M.J. Adams held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 37-65.) On July 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 8-18.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 25, 2017 (AR 806-11), 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 since the application date. (AR 11.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's depression, anxiety, and history of alcohol abuse. (Id.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 11-12.)

         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 a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following limitations: he can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. He can do work that requires little or no judgment and perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in less than 30 days. He can respond appropriately to supervision, but cannot work in close coordination with co-workers where teamwork is required. He can tolerate occasional changes in the work environment and work that requires no interaction with the public. (AR 12.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 16.)

         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. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to representative occupations, such as mail clerk, hand packager, and landscape laborer. (AR 16-17.)

         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) discounting an opinion written by examining psychologist Melanie Mitchell, Psy.D; and (2) discounting his subjective testimony.[2] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed, but that if it is remanded, ...


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