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Harts v. Berryhill

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

May 17, 2018

CLANIAH HARTS, 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 Claniah Harts 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 REMANDED for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1970.[1] She completed some college-level courses and obtained a certificate, but has no past relevant work. (AR 38, 55-57.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI in November 2013, alleging disability beginning June 19, 2007. (AR 244.) Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On May 12, 2015, ALJ Cheri Filion held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 46-95.) The ALJ also held a second hearing on October 20, 2015, taking testimony from plaintiff, a medical expert, and a VE. (AR 97-111.) On December 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled since November 22, 2013, the protective filing date.[2] (AR 26-39.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on July 24, 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.

         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 alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's osteoarthritis, asthma, anxiety disorder, affective disorder, and somatoform disorder severe. He found other impairments either not severe or not medically determinable. 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 some additional limitations. Plaintiff can occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds and frequently lift and carry ten pounds; stand and/or walk and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; frequently crouch, kneel, or stoop and occasionally crawl and climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, vibrations, and hazards, and even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation. Plaintiff can recall simple and detailed instructions and perform at least simple, repetitive tasks, and may benefit from additional time to adjust to workplace changes. Plaintiff had no past relevant work to consider at step four.

         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 VE assistance, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as a marker, hotel/motel housekeeper, and semiconductor dye loader.

         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 ...


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