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Jeffries v. Berryhill

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

May 3, 2018

MICHAEL A. JEFFRIES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE

          Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.

         Michael A. Jeffries seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Mr. Jeffries contends the ALJ erred in rejecting medical opinions indicating standing, sitting and stooping limitations, and in determining how his need to sit or stand at will would affect the occupational base. Dkt. 11.[1] As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Jeffries is currently 49 years old, has at least a high school education, and has worked as a compliance director. Tr. 28. On May 29, 2013, Mr. Jeffries applied for benefits, alleging disability as of November 30, 2010. Tr. 17. His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on October 22, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Jeffries not disabled. Tr. 17-30.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found:

Step one: Mr. Jeffries has not worked since the alleged onset date.
Step two: He has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[3]
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Jeffries can stand six hours, sit six hours, and “needs a sit/stand option at will meaning sitting no more than 30 to 45 minutes at one time.” Tr. 21. He can lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme conditions and hazards. He can perform simple, routine tasks and more detailed or complex tasks at a moderate pace. He should only have occasional brief, superficial interactions with the general public and coworkers. He can accept supervision and minimal changes to the work setting.
Step four: Mr. Jeffries cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, Mr. Jeffries is not disabled.

Tr. 19-28. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.[4]

         DISCUSSION

         A. Stand/Walk Limitation

         In February 2014, based on a diagnosis of a severe spine disorder, nonexamining physician Robert Bernardez-Fu, M.D., opined that Mr. Jeffries' “low back” impairments would limit him to standing and/or walking for a total of two hours out of an 8-hour work day. Tr. 172, 175-76.

         An ALJ “may reject the opinion of a non-examining physician by reference to specific evidence in the medical record.” Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 972 (9th Cir. 1996)). All of the determinative findings by the ALJ must be supported by substantial evidence. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). “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.'” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989)). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment ...


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