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Countryman v. Berryhill

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

June 4, 2018

BEKKI COUNTRYMAN, 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 Bekki Countryman proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and 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 an award of benefits.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1985.[1] She did not complete high school or obtain a GED, and previously worked as a barista, shift manager, sales promotion representative, and food sales clerk. (AR 22, 36, 107-08, 420.)

         Plaintiff filed SSI and DIB applications in March 2013, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2011. (AR 361-70.) Her date last insured (DLI) for purposes of receiving DIB is December 31, 2017. (AR 17.) The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On April 17, 2014, ALJ Wayne Araki held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 32-58.) At hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to February 11, 2013, a date consistent with when she stopped working. (AR 34.) On August 15, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 198-209.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council granted the request for review, identifying a number of different issues requiring resolution. (AR 216-18.) On July 19, 2016, the ALJ held another hearing, taking additional testimony from plaintiff and a VE. (AR 59-140.) In a decision dated March 6, 2017, the ALJ again found plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-24.)[2]

         The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on September 21, 2017 (AR 1-5), 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 severe plaintiff's ventricular pilocytic astrocytoma, with residual symptoms of headaches and nausea, and cognitive 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 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, but with no restrictions in sitting, standing, or walking; able to occasionally climb stairs and ramps, stoop, and crawl; unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; able to frequently balance; and unable to tolerate more than occasional exposure to vibrations or hazards, to operate heavy equipment, or work at unprotected heights. Plaintiff can remember, understand, and carry out instructions for tasks generally required by occupations with an SVP of 1-2, and adjust to workplace changes generally associated with occupations with an SVP of 1-2. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a barista.

         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 also found plaintiff ...


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