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Liang v. Berryhill

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

January 4, 2018

ERIC MICHAEL LIANG, 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 Eric Michael Liang 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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 AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1980.[1] He has a high school diploma, and has worked as a guest services representative, janitor, and petroleum supply specialist in the U.S. Army. (AR 229.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in June 2015. (AR 189-90.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 129-31, 133-34, 138-39.)

         On July 8, 2016, ALJ David Johnson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff, his wife, and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 47-97.) On September 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 26-41.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 5, 2017 (AR 1-7), 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 April 22, 2015, the alleged onset date. (AR 28.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and left ankle abnormality. (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 28-30.)

         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 medium work, with additional limitations: he can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and cannot have concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness, vibration, or hazards. He can perform simple, routine tasks that do not require more than occasional adaptation to changes in the work setting or work process. He cannot interact with the general public or co-workers to perform job tasks. (AR 30.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 39.)

         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. With the VE's assistance, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, specifically industrial cleaner, laundry laborer, and dryer attendant. (AR 40-41.)

         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 his subjective statements, (2) discounting the disability rating issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and (3) discounting certain medical opinions.[2] The Commissioner argues that the ...


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