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Sanford v. Berryhill

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

June 27, 2018

WADE LEWIS SANFORD, 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 Wade Lewis Sanford proceeds through counsel in his 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1964.[1] He has two years of college education, and previously worked as a mover/truck driver. (AR 225, 231.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB in September 2009. (AR 203-09.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 112-14, 117-22.)

         ALJ Larry Kennedy held hearings in August and December 2011, taking testimony from Plaintiff, a medical expert (ME), and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 48-109.) On January 6, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff disabled from October 15, 2007, through July 27, 2010, and not disabled thereafter due to medical improvement. (AR 24-42.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 11, 2013 (AR 1-7), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court, which reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded to permit the ALJ to reconsider whether Plaintiff's bowel condition improved in July 2010. (AR 874-90.) A different ALJ, Joanne Dantonio, held a hearing in January 2015, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a VE. (AR 838-68.) In May 2015, the ALJ again found Plaintiff disabled from October 15, 2007, through July 27, 2010, and not disabled thereafter through his date last insured (DLI) of September 30, 2012. (AR 927-53.)

         The Appeals Council assumed jurisdiction of the case and affirmed the ALJ's finding in that Plaintiff was disabled from October 15, 2007, though July 27, 2010, but remanded to the ALJ to consider mental impairments and reconsider Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) during the period he was found not disabled.[2] (AR 963-64.) ALJ Dantonio held another hearing in October 2016, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a VE. (AR 819-37.) On June 30, 2017, the ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled from July 28, 2010, though September 30, 2012. (AR 787-809.) Plaintiff then requested judicial review. Dkt. 1.

         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 during the adjudicated period. (AR 790.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post fusion; cervical degenerative disc disease/degenerative joint disease; irritable bowel syndrome; and major depressive disorder. (AR 790-91.) 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 791-93.)

         If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess RFC and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found that during the adjudicated period, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with additional limitations: he could lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently in an eight-hour workday. He could sit, stand, and walk up to four hours each in an eight-hour workday, in 30-minute intervals. He could never crawl, bend, squat, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could occasionally kneel, stoop, crouch, and balance. He could have no more than frequent exposure to extreme temperatures, vibration, and hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. He required ready access to a bathroom. He could perform simple, routine tasks that required only occasional changes in work tasks. He could perform work that did not require him to exercise judgment on how to perform the work tasks. (AR 793.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work as a furniture mover driver. (AR 807.)

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform 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 help of VE testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other ...


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