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Fowler v. Berryhill

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

November 28, 2017

JOHN MORRIS FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his application for 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 finds the decision to deny benefits should be affirmed.

         On November 24, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging he became disabled beginning July 30, 2013. Dkt. 10, Administrative Record (AR) 21. That application was denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ), at which plaintiff appeared and testified as did a vocational expert. AR 43-73.

         In a decision dated July 24, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore that he was not disabled. AR 21-37. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, which plaintiff then appealed in a complaint filed with this Court on March 23, 2017. AR 1; Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits, or in the alternative for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in failing to find his headaches are a severe impairment;
(2) in failing to find any of his impairments met a listed impairment; and
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity.

         For the reasons set forth below, however, the Court disagrees that the ALJ erred as alleged, and therefore affirms the decision to deny benefits.

         I. STANDARD AND SCOPE OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step thereof, the disability determination is made at that step, and the sequential evaluation process ends. Id. The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, No. 15-16477, slip op. at 7 (9th Cir. Oct. 26, 2017). 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, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence yet less than a preponderance of the evidence. Id.

         If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's decision. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely; the Court's scope of review is confined to the reasons identified by the ALJ. Id.

         I. The Plaintiff's Contention re: ALJ's Step Two Determination

         The ALJ in this case found plaintiff had a number of severe impairments, but determined that plaintiff's headaches did not qualify as severe for purposes of step two. AR 23. ...


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