United States District Court, W.D. Washington
LINDA M. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.
P. DONOHUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Linda M. Anderson appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33,
after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 48-year-old woman with a high school diploma and
additional training as an educational assistant.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 30-31. Her past
work experience includes employment as a paraeducator,
barista, cashier, customer service clerk, dishwasher,
painter, waitress, and weight operator. AR at 142. At the
time of the most recent administrative hearing, Plaintiff was
employed as a substitute paraeducator. AR at 918-22.
September 2007, she filed an application for DIB, alleging an
onset date of August 30, 2001. AR at 75-76, 128-32. Plaintiff
asserts that she is disabled due to back and knee pain,
depression, and anxiety. AR at 141.
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 77-79, 82-83. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on June 7, 2010. AR at 25-74. On
July 26, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled and denied benefits based on his finding that
Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 10-18.
Plaintiff's administrative appeal of the ALJ's
decision was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 1-5, making
the ALJ's ruling the “final decision” of the
Commissioner as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. §
sought judicial review in the U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Washington, and the court granted the
parties' stipulation to reverse the ALJ's decision
and remand for further administrative proceedings. AR at
663-70. A different ALJ held a hearing on September 26, 2013.
AR at 597-637. On November 27, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff
not disabled. AR at 863-80. Plaintiff filed exceptions, but
the Appeals Council found no reason to assume jurisdiction,
on November 6, 2014. AR at 854-58.
sought judicial review of this final decision, and the U.S.
District Court for the Western District of Washington
reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded for
further administrative proceedings. AR at 985-92. A third ALJ
held a hearing, on November 9, 2016 (AR at 914-48), and
subsequently found Plaintiff not disabled. AR at 890-905.
Plaintiff again seeks judicial review. Dkt. 1, 3.
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
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 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
claimant, Ms. Anderson bears the burden of proving that she
is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d
1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The
Act defines disability as the “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or
mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last,
for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant
is disabled under the Act only if her impairments are of such
severity that she is unable to do her previous work, and
cannot, considering her age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in
the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A);
see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098- 99
(9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the
burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a
claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence,
the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent
steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently
engaged in “substantial gainful activity”
(“SGA”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). If she is, disability benefits are denied.
If she is not, the Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step
two, the claimant must establish that she has one or more
medically severe impairments, or combination of impairments,
that limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. If the claimant does not have such impairments,
she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). If the claimant does have a severe impairment,
the Commissioner moves to step three to determine whether the
impairment meets or equals any of the listed impairments
described in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). A claimant whose impairment meets or
equals one of the listings for the required twelve-month
duration requirement is disabled. Id.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner
evaluates the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work to determine whether she
can still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform
her past relevant work, she is not disabled; if the opposite
is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five to show that the claimant can perform other work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking
into consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the
Commissioner finds the claimant is unable to perform other
work, then the claimant is found disabled and benefits may be
February 2, 2017, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on December 31, 2003.
2. The claimant did not engage in SGA during the period from
her alleged onset date of August 30, 2001, through the date
last insured (“DLI”) of December 31, 2003.
3. Through the DLI, the claimant had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease and knee
4. Through the DLI, the claimant did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part
404 Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, through the DLI, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she could stand or walk 2 hours
in an 8-hour workday. She was permitted to stand up to 15
minutes at a time at her own discretion. She could never
climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She could occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel and crouch. She
could never crawl. She needed to avoid concentrated exposure
to hazards and extreme cold. She was permitted to apply ice
and heat packs at the workstation.
6. Through the DLI, the claimant was unable to perform any
past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born on XXXXX, 1969, and was 34 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Through the DLI, considering the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant could have performed.
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, at any time from August 30, 2001,
the alleged onset date, through the DLI.
AR at 893-904.
ISSUES ON APPEAL