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Monroe v. Berryhill

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

March 20, 2018

FLORENCE M. MONROE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO VACATE AND REMAND, OR, IN THE ALTERATIVE, TO REVERSE AND REMAND

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Florence M. Monroe seeks review of the denial of her application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Dkt. 13. As discussed below, Plaintiff's motion should be DENIED and the Court should AFFIRM Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's (“the Commissioner”) final administrative decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed for SSI and disability benefits on October 25, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 15, 2005. Administrative Record (“AR”) 798. Plaintiff appealed a “no disability” decision by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to the United States District Court, which reversed and remanded for further proceedings. AR 886-896. After an evidentiary hearing on August 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a second “no disability” decision, finding at Step Four that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work. AR 798-811. The evidentiary hearing included testimony from Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (“VE”). AR 822-52. The Social Security Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ decision. AR 783-789.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2005, the alleged onset date. AR 800.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and status-post cervical fusion; asthma; diabetes; and hypertension. AR 801.
Step three: Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal the requirements under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of a listed impairment. AR 804.
Residual Functioning Capacity (“RFC”): Plaintiff has the RFC “to perform light work . . . with some exceptions. [Plaintiff] can stand or walk for approximately six hours, and sit for approximately six hours, per eight hour work day with normal breaks. She can frequently climb ramps or stairs but never climb ladders ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can frequently stoop, kneel or crouch. She can occasionally crawl. [Plaintiff] can frequently handle and reach with the left upper extremity and unlimited with the right, except she can have only occasional overhead reaching. [Plaintiff] should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and excessive vibration and workplace hazards[.]” AR 805 (emphasis added).
Step four: Plaintiff is capable of performing “past relevant work as a broadcast checker, [which] does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [Plaintiff's] residual functional capacity.” AR 810.

         DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005), citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the medical evidence in the record is not conclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts” are solely the functions of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such cases, “the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999).

         In resolving questions of credibility and conflicts in the evidence, an ALJ's findings “must be supported by specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725. The ALJ can do this “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Id. The ALJ also may draw inferences “logically flowing from the evidence.” Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. Further, the Court itself may draw “specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989).

         Plaintiff has raised two errors, quoted verbatim and discussed herein.

         1. The ALJ failed to comply with prior Remand Order and did not provide clear and convincing or even specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting medical opinions and ignoring objective evidence of Plaintiff's left arm limitations.

         This argument centers on the ALJ finding about Plaintiff's left upper extremity, see Dkt. 13, 17, where the ALJ found that Plaintiff “can frequently handle and reach with the left upper extremity and unlimited with the right, except she can have only occasional overhead reaching.” AR 805 (emphasis added). Plaintiff assigns this error first to ...


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