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McCarten v. Berryhill

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

January 26, 2018

JACQUELYN McCARTEN, 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 Jacquelyn McCarten proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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, 1972.[1] She has a high school diploma and some college education, and has worked as a model, customer service representative, caterer, telemarketer, food service worker, and U.S. Army trainee. (AR 50, 189, 716.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in October 2010. (AR 137-45.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 92-95, 99-105.)

         On March 13, 2012, ALJ Stephanie Martz held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 43-68.) On March 30, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 26-37.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 11, 2013. (AR 1-7.)

         Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court, which reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for further administrative proceedings. (AR 760-76.) ALJ Martz held a hearing on May 7, 2015, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a VE. (AR 658-87.) ALJ Martz issued a decision on June 26, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 818-42.) The Appeals Council assumed jurisdiction on March 30, 2016, and remanded the matter to a different ALJ for further proceedings. (AR 845-47.)

         ALJ Larry Kennedy conducted a hearing on August 8, 2016, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a VE. (AR 688-723.) On November 23, 2016, ALJ Kennedy issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 628-47.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 19, 2017 (AR 608-14), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

         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 her application date. (AR 630.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's affective disorders (variously diagnosed as bipolar, depressive, and mood disorders); anxiety disorders (variously diagnosed as anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder); personality disorder; and history of alcohol dependence. (AR 630-31.) 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 631-34.)

         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 a full range of work at all exertional levels, with additional limitations. She can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. She can do work that needs little or no judgment and can perform simple duties that can be learned on-the-job in a short period. She requires a work environment with minimal supervisor contact. She can work in proximity to coworkers, but not in a cooperative or team effort. She requires a work environment that has no more than superficial interactions with coworkers. She cannot have public contact. Her work environment must be predictable and with few work setting changes. (AR 634.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work as a telemarketer. (AR 646.)

         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, including box folder, truck washer, ...


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