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Kraft v. Berryhill

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

May 4, 2018

TAMMY KRAFT, 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 Tammy Kraft proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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, 1963.[1] Plaintiff has a GED and previously worked as a general office clerk, scorekeeper, cutting machine tender, pizza deliverer, and order clerk, food and beverage. (AR 211, 864.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on November 29, 2011, alleging disability beginning February 27, 2009. (AR 184.) The period under consideration begins on November 29, 2010, one year prior to the protective filing date. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.335, 416.912(d). (See also AR 850.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

         ALJ Wayne Araki held a hearing on June 4, 2013, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 29-64.) On July 24, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 12-22.) After the Appeals Council denied review (AR 2-6), plaintiff appealed to this Court. In an August 13, 2015 decision, the Court remanded for further administrative proceedings. (AR 947-57.)

         The ALJ held a second hearing on June 28, 2016, taking testimony from plaintiff and a VE (AR 876-919), and updated the record (see AR 850-51). In a decision dated September 30, 2016, the ALJ again found plaintiff not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 850-67.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed and the Appeals Council found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision. (AR 838-41.) The ALJ's September 2016 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner and plaintiff appealed to this Court. (AR 839); 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484.

         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 the application date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found the following impairments severe: organic mental disorders; affective disorder/depression; anxiety disorder/ post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) v. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); degenerative disc disease; peripheral neuropathy/carpal tunnel syndrome; and migraines/ headaches. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment.

         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 able to perform light work, with the following limitations: able to remember and understand instructions for tasks generally required by occupations with a Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) of 1-2; able to carry out instructions for tasks generally required by occupations with an SVP of 1-2; can have occasional face-to-face interactions with the general public, with no restrictions on over the phone interaction; can have occasional interactions with co-workers and supervisors; can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk about six hours per day; can sit about six hours per day; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; and can have occasional exposure to hazards and vibrations. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work.

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no 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 performing other jobs, such as work as a production line solderer, electrical accessories assembler, semiconductor wafer breaker, semiconductor die loader, and order clerk, food and beverage.[2] The ALJ also found that, with the addition of a limitation to frequent bilateral fingering/handling, plaintiff would still be able to perform the jobs of production line solderer and electrical accessories assembler, and could also perform the jobs of circuit board assembler and document preparer. The ALJ observed that, except for a document preparer, all of the occupations identified are performed in a factory setting and do not require any public contact or interaction, that the document preparer job is performed in an office setting and requires very little face-to-face contact, and found that, even excluding the document preparer job, there are still a significant number of jobs plaintiff could perform.

         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). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal error.”) 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 by failing to properly consider the severity of her migraine headaches. She challenges the ALJ's reasons for rejecting her migraine-related symptom testimony and the RFC assessed. Plaintiff requests remand to the Commissioner for a new hearing with instructions to correct the legal errors and render a new decision. The Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision has the support of substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         Symptoms of ...


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