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Lavender v. Berryhill

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

June 1, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Amber Rose Lavender 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.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1980.[1] She completed 10th grade with special education, and has worked as a factory sorter. (AR 52, 59-60, 321.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI in April 2014. (AR 123, 284-90.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 208-15, 219-27.)

         On February 22, 2016, ALJ Marilyn Mauer held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 95-122.) On April 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 1`-37.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 26, 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.


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


         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 28, 2014, the alleged onset date. (AR 24.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's history of alcohol abuse in claimed remission; learning disorder; depressive disorder, not otherwise specified; anxiety disorder; and borderline intellectual functioning. (AR 24-26.) 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 26-28.)

         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 full range of work at all exertional levels, with some additional limitations: she can frequently handle and finger. She can perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, consistent with reasoning level 1. (AR 28-35.)

         Because Plaintiff has no past relevant work (AR 35), the ALJ proceeded to step five, where 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 representative occupations such as commercial cleaner, conveyer feeder, machine feeder, housekeeping cleaner, produce sorter, advertising material distributor, and bench hand clock and watch repairer. (AR 35-36.) Thus, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 36.)

         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 that Crohn's disease was not a severe impairment at step two; (2) discounting her subjective symptom testimony; (3) assessing certain medical opinions; and (4) discounting statements written by Plaintiff's fiancé, Peter Laserinko.[2]Plaintiff argues these errors should be remedied by a remand for a finding of disability, or administrative proceedings in the alternative. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is ...

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