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Best v. Berryhill

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

December 4, 2017

HOLLY L. BEST, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Richard A. Jones United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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.[1] Dkt. 11. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. 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.[2] 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.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In a 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.

         In this case, the ALJ applied the five-step disability evaluation process[3] 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 found:

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 impairments.
Step three: These impairments meet or equal the requirements of Listings 12.03 and 12.04.[4] 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 relevant work.
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.

Tr. ...


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