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Mitchell v. Berryhill

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

February 20, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ronald B. Leighton United States District Judge.

         Wesley Scott Mitchell appeals the ALJ's decision finding him not disabled. He contends the ALJ erroneously (1) found at step-five he can perform jobs in the national economy; (2) failed to account for all limitations assessed by Robert Hoskins, M.D., Michael Brown, Ph.D., Patricia Kraft, Ph.D., Han Johnson, Ph.D., Charles Quinci, Ph.D., Peter Weiss, Ph.D., and Alysa Ruddell, Ph.D.; (3) ignored vocational specialist Kathy O'Neal's opinions; and (4) rejected his testimony about the severity of his limitations. Dkt. 10 at 1-2. For the reasons below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the case for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Mr. Mitchell applied for benefits in 2010. After conducting a hearing in January 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding him not disabled. Tr. 27-49. Mr. Mitchell sought review of this decision in the United States District Court. The Court reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. Tr. 589-602. Following remand, the ALJ conducted a hearing and issued a decision on October 21, 2015, finding Mr. Mitchell not disabled. Tr. 511-554. Mr. Mitchell seeks review of this decision, which is the final decision of the Commissioner.


         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Mr. Mitchell has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 22, 2010.
Step two: Degenerative joint disease of the right knee, tendinosis of the supraspinatus tendon and osteoarthritic change in glenohumeral articulation and acromioclavicular (AC) joint without significant impingement of the tendon, polysubstance abuse in reported remission, psychosis NOS and mood disorder NOS are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Mitchell can perform light work except he can occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, bend, crouch, and crawl; he should avoid extreme cold and vibration; he is limited to performing simple, repetitive tasks that involve no more than incidental public contact; he is limited to no more than occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity; he is limited to work environments with noise level three or below; and in an eight hour day he can stand and walk no more than two hours.
Step four: Mr. Mitchell has no past relevant work.
Step five: There are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Mitchell can perform and he is thus not disabled.

TR. 516-31.


         The Court will reverse the ALJ's decision only if it is not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or if the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). The ALJ's decision may not be reversed on account of an error that is harmless. Id. at 1111. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold the Commissioner's interpretation.

         A. The ALJ's Step-Five Determination

         At step-five, the ALJ found the vocational expert (VE) testified a person with Mr. Mitchell's RFC “would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as routing clerk (D.O.T. 22.687-022) . . . and laundry folder (D.O.T. 369.687-018). Tr. 530. Mr. Mitchell contends the ALJ harmfully erred in two respects. First he correctly argues the VE testified a person limited to standing and walking no more than two hours in an eight hour day, such as Mr. Mitchell “wouldn't be able to do the routing clerk.” Tr. 554. The ALJ accordingly erred in finding Mr. Mitchell could perform the routing clerk job.

         Second he contends the laundry folder job “requires more than ‘simple repetitive tasks' as in the RFC finding.” Dkt. 10 at 4-5. He argues the laundry folder job, which requires DOT reasoning level 2 demands more than a person who is limited to jobs involving simple repetitive tasks. Id. The argument fails. There is no conflict between an RFC limited to simple repetitive tasks and the DOT level 2 reasoning requirements of laundry folder. See Hernandez v. Berryhill, 707 Fed.Appx. 456, 458 (9th Cir. 2017) (“There was no apparent conflict between the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination that Hernandez was “limited to simple, repetitive tasks” and the vocational expert's testimony that she could work as an envelope addresser, a job which the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles describes as requiring ‘Level 2' reasoning.”).

         In sum, the Court rejects Mr. Mitchell's contention the ALJ identified jobs he cannot perform. While Mr. Mitchell cannot perform work as a routing clerk, there is no conflict between the ability to perform simple repetitive work and the towel folder jobs which requires level 2 reasoning. ...

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