United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
J. Pechman United States District Judge.
Jay Mattheu Wheeler seeks review of the Commissioner's
denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income
and Disability Insurance Benefits. He contends the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in
assessing the medical evidence, whether his impairments met
or equaled a listing at step three, and the reliability of
his subjective testimony and lay witness testimony. Dkt. 11.
Mr. Wheeler alleges that these errors led to errors in the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment
and the ALJ's finding that he could perform jobs existing
in significant numbers in the national economy. Dkt. 11 at
18-19. As discussed below, the Court
REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and
REMANDS this case for further administrative
Wheeler is currently 47 years old, has a 10th-grade
education, and previously worked as garbage truck driver,
roofer, and lumber yard foreman. Tr. 80, 89, 460. In April
2011, he applied for benefits, alleging disability as of
September 15, 2010. Tr. 57, 151-52, 426-38. His applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 236-39,
243-56. The ALJ conducted hearings on June 12, 2012, and
October 30, 2012 (Tr. 38-104), and subsequently found Mr.
Wheeler not disabled. Tr. 214-25. The Appeals Council granted
Mr. Wheeler's request for review, and remanded the matter
back to the ALJ for further proceedings. Tr. 232-34.
held another hearing on February 5, 2015 (Tr. 105-50), and
subsequently found Mr. Wheeler not disabled. Tr. 14-27. As
the Appeals Council denied Mr. Wheeler'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 Mr. Wheeler disabled initially at
step three, and then restarted the evaluation process to
consider the materiality of Mr. Wheeler's DAA. The ALJ
Step one: Mr. Wheeler did not engage in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date.
Step two: Mr. Wheeler's seizures,
cognitive disorder, learning disorder, borderline
intellectual functioning, and alcohol abuse are severe
Step three: Factoring in Mr. Wheeler's
alcohol abuse, his seizure disorder meets the requirements of
Listing 11.01. Therefore, if Mr. Wheeler's DAA is
included, he is disabled.
DAA step two: If Mr. Wheeler stopped the
substance use, he would still continue to have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments.
DAA step three: If Mr. Wheeler stopped the
substance use, none of his impairments meet the requirements
of a listed impairment.
RFC: If Mr. Wheeler stopped the substance
use, he could perform light work, with additional
limitations. He can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently. He can stand/walk for six hours out of an
eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours out of an
eight-hour workday. He must avoid concentrated exposure to
hazards such as dangerous moving machinery and heights. He
can perform simple, repetitive tasks. He can maintain
attention and concentration in two-hour increments, with
usual and customary breaks. He can interact occasionally with
supervisors. He can work superficially and occasionally with
the general public. He can maintain appropriate standards of
cleanliness and neatness as would be required for work
involving only superficial and occasional interaction ...