United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge.
Malinda Stolz 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 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on XXXX, 1964. She obtained a GED and previously
worked as an inventory clerk and general clerk. (AR 30, 69.)
protectively filed a DIB application on March 6, 2014,
alleging disability beginning June 26, 2012. (AR 325.) The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
August 27, 2015, ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing, taking
testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR
78-124.) The ALJ held a second hearing on January 25, 2016,
taking testimony from plaintiff, a medical expert (ME), and a
VE. (AR 37-77.)
9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not
disabled. (AR 15-31.) The ALJ found a prior, July 26, 2013
denial of a DIB application administratively final, found no
basis for reopening that claim, and primarily addressed
evidence and opinions dated after the administratively final
decision. (AR 15, 22.)
timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review on August 16, 2017 (AR 1), making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to
Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 severe
plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine, affective-related disorders, anxiety-related
disorders, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and
substance abuse disorder. 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.
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 exceptions: occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and
crouch; unable to climb or crawl; and avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold and heat, humidity, vibration,
pulmonary irritants, and hazards. Plaintiff could perform
simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions,
do work that needs little or no judgment, and perform simple
duties that can be learned on the job in a short period. She
requires a work environment with minimal supervisor contact
(meaning contact that does not occur regularly; not preluding
simple and superficial exchanges or being in close proximity
to supervisor), can work in proximity to co-workers, but not
in a cooperative or team effort, and requires a work
environment with no more than superficial interactions with
co-workers, is predictable, and with few work setting
changes. She should not deal with the general public, as in a
sales position or where the general public is frequently
encountered as an essential element of the work process, but
can have incidental, brief, and superficial public contact.
With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to
perform her past relevant work.
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 small products
assembler or production assembler.
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.
challenges the ALJ's failure to accommodate all of her
COPD-related limitations in the RFC, arguing error in the
assessment of her symptom testimony, a physician's
opinion, and lay testimony. She requests remand for further
administrative proceedings. The Commissioner argues the
ALJ's decision has the support of substantial evidence
and should be affirmed.