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Thomas v. Berryhill

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

March 20, 2018

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


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Sarah Angelina Thomas proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1975.[1] She has a high school diploma, and has worked as a business manager, receptionist, and paralegal. (AR 320-21.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB in November 2013. (AR 292-304.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 155-63, 165-77.)

         On October 20, 2015, ALJ Glenn G. Meyers held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 38-75.) On May 4, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-31.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 27, 2017 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.


         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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 January 7, 2014, the alleged onset date. (AR 17.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's seizure disorder, diabetes mellitus, diabetic retinopathy, history of right eye laser surgery, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, substance abuse in remission, headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (AR 17-18.) 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 18-20.)

         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 light work with additional restrictions. She can perform simple, repetitive tasks in two-hour increments. She can have superficial, incidental contact with the public. She can work in proximity to, but not in coordination with co-workers. She can have occasional contact with supervisors. She would be off-task at work up to 10% of the time, but still meet minimum production requirements. She would be absent one day per month. She can frequently engage in activities requiring depth perception. The claimant must avoid working at unprotected heights. She can never balance or drive. She can never work in hazardous conditions, such as around moving machinery. (AR 20.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 29.)

         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 assistance of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, including bottle packer; production assembler; and assembler, electrical accessories I. (AR 30-31.)

         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 arguesthe ALJ erred in (1) finding at step three that she did not meet Listings 9.00, 12.04, or 12.06; (2) assessing certain medical evidence and opinions; (3) discounting her own testimony; (4) rejecting statements written by Plaintiff's daughter; and (5) failing to account for her seizures when assessing her RFC. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         Step ...

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