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Cruz v. Berryhill

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

April 9, 2018

CARL LEONGUERRERO CRUZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          MARY ALICE THEILER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Carl Leonguerrero Cruz proceeds through counsel in his 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.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1971.[1] He has some college education, and has worked as a cook, electronics technician, and collections operations manager. (AR 50-59.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI and DIB in May 2014. (AR 202-09.) Those applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 134-41, 146-52.)

         On October 20, 2015, ALJ Marilyn Mauer held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 45-85.) On May 4, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 23-39.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 27, 2017 (AR 1-7), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         JURISDICTION

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

         DISCUSSION

         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 April 30, 2014, the alleged onset date. (AR 25.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's anxiety disorder, NOS; adjustment disorder with anxiety; dizziness with no physical etiology established; post-concussion syndrome with mild neurocognitive deficit; and tinnitus. (AR 25-26.) 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 27-28.)

         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 a range of medium work, with additional limitations. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently climb ramps and stairs and frequently stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. He cannot be exposed to hazards such as unprotected heights and large moving equipment. He cannot operate motor vehicles. He can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions for tasks that require no decision making, in a setting without teamwork, public contact, or an hourly production pace. He cannot work in a high-noise environment. He can frequently handle, finger, and feel. (AR 28.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unble to perform past relevant work. (AR 37.)

         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 adjusting to other representative occupations, including janitor, lumber sorter, hand packager, pricing marker, package sorter, and production assembler. (AR 37-39.)

         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 erred in (1) finding his sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome to be not severe at step two, and in failing to account for limitations caused by those impairments in the RFC assessment; and (2) finding that he did not meet any of the neurological listings at step three.[2] The Commissioner argues ...


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