United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
HOLLY L. BEST, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Richard A. Jones United States District Judge
Holly L. Best seeks review of the Commissioner's denial
of her application for Supplemental Security Income and
Disability Insurance Benefits. She contends the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by
discounting certain opinion evidence, her subjective
testimony, and lay testimony. Dkt. 11. As discussed below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
Best is currently 52 years old, has a GED and two years of
college education, and previously worked as bartender,
construction laborer, and flagger. Tr. 40-42. In January
2013, she applied for benefits, alleging disability as of
June 13, 2012. Tr. 218-27, 251. Her applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 138-44, 146-59.
The ALJ conducted a hearing on January 7, 2015 (Tr. 36-65),
and subsequently found Ms. Best not disabled. Tr. 14-30. As
the Appeals Council denied Ms. Best's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. Tr. 1-6.
case involving evidence of drug addiction and alcoholism
(“DAA”), an ALJ may need to consider the impact
of the claimant's DAA on his or her impairments. If the
claimant would be considered disabled if the DAA is factored
in, the ALJ should go on to consider whether the claimant
would still be disabled if the DAA is factored out.
See Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
13-2p, 2013 WL 621536, at *4-5 (Feb. 20, 2013). If the
claimant would not be considered disabled if his or her DAA
were factored out, then the DAA is “material” to
the disability and the claimant is not entitled to disability
benefits. SSR 13-2p, 2013 WL 621536, at *4.
case, the ALJ applied the five-step disability evaluation
process to find Ms. Best disabled initially at
step three, and then restarted the evaluation process to
consider the materiality of Ms. Best's DAA. The ALJ
Step one: Ms. Best did not engage in
substantial gainful activity after she applied for benefits.
Step two: Ms. Best's alcohol dependence
and prescription drug dependence, affective disorder,
psychosis, degenerative disc disease, and seizures are severe
Step three: These impairments meet or equal
the requirements of Listings 12.03 and 12.04. Therefore, if Ms.
Best's DAA is included, she is disabled.
DAA step two: If Ms. Best stopped the
substance use, her degenerative disc disease and seizures
would still be severe impairments.
DAA step three: If Ms. Best stopped the
substance use, none of her impairments meet the requirements
of a listed impairment.
RFC: If Ms. Best stopped the substance use,
she could perform light work, with additional limitations.
She can perform only occasional climbing. She would need to
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and
hazards in the workplace, such as dangerous moving machinery
and working at unprotected heights. She would be able to
perform simple, entry-level tasks, requiring reasoning level
1-3. She must work in a stable environment requiring only
occasional adaptation to change.
Step four: If Ms. Best stopped the substance
use, she would not be able to perform any of her past
Step five: If Ms. Best stopped the substance
use, she could perform other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. Therefore, her DAA is
material and she is not disabled.