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Battles v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Tamara Alisha Battles el proceeds pro se 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 AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1977.[1] She has a high school diploma and training as a legal assistant, and has worked as an administrative assistant, ship painter, and restaurant server. (AR 306, 317.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI and DIB in March 2013. (AR 275-87, 303.) Those applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 181-84, 190-97.)

         On December 3, 2015, ALJ Laura Valente held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 40-114.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. 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 May 16, 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 March 1, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. (AR 20.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's right upper extremity carpal tunnel syndrome, hallux valgus, anxiety disorder, and affective disorder. (AR 20-21.) 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 21-22.)

         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 limitations. She can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, and stand/walk five hours in an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally push/pull with the right leg, and occasionally push/pull with the right arm (within the weight restrictions for lifting/carrying). She can occasionally use the right wrist for repetitive activity such as typing and keyboarding, and perform all other wrist activity at the frequent level. She has no postural limitations, except that she should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can occasionally crawl. She can perform complex and detailed tasks with specific vocational preparation (SVP) levels up to 5, and can maintain concentration and pace for this work in two-hour increments with the usual and customary breaks within an eight-hour workday. She cannot work with the general public. She can have occasional interaction with supervisors, and superficial interaction with coworkers (meaning she can be in the same room/vicinity, but not work in coordination with them). She can respond to workplace changes as might be required for jobs with SVP levels up to 5. (AR 22.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 31.)

         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 front desk receptionist, dessert cup machine feeder, and sterilizer operator. (AR 32-33.)

         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's decision contains a variety of errors. Dkt. 2. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and ...

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