United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING THE CASE FOR FURTHER
RICHARD A. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Shelly Jean Spears, seeks review of the denial of her
application for Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff
contends the ALJ erred in evaluating two medical opinions and
her own testimony, and in applying the Medical-Vocational
rules. Dkt. 11 at 1. As discussed below, the Court
REVERSES the Commissioner's final
decision and REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
is currently 54 years old, has a high school education and
has worked as a waitress, child monitor, and newspaper
carrier. Tr. 31-32. On April 17, 2014, plaintiff applied for
benefits, alleging disability as of October 15, 2011. Tr. 17.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Id. After the ALJ conducted a
hearing on January 19, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 17-33.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the application date,
April 17, 2014.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease with stenosis and
radiculopathy, lumbar spondylosis, peripheral neuropathy,
obesity, possible conversion reaction, anxiety, personality
disorder, and major depressive disorder.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can
perform light work, further limited to standing or walking
two hours at a time or four hours total in a workday and
sitting two hours at a time; no climbing ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; only occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, crawling, or climbing ramps or stairs; no
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, or vibration.
Plaintiff is further limited to low stress work, meaning no
hazards; simple, routine tasks; no more than occasional,
superficial interaction; adaptation to no more than simple or
minor changes in the work setting or work process.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.
Tr. 19-33. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.
contends the ALJ erred by failing to find the
Medical-Vocational rules mandated a finding of disability,
discounting her testimony, and giving little weight to the
opinions of two examining medical sources.
argues that the limitation to four hours of standing or
walking transforms her RFC from light to sedentary. She
argues the ALJ thus erred in using the Medical-Vocational
rules only as a “framework” (see Tr. 32)
instead of finding that they direct a conclusion of
disability. Dkt. 11 at 11-12.
of the Medical-Vocational rules matches the claimant's
situation precisely, that rule “directs a conclusion as
to whether the individual is or is not disabled.” 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, § 200.00(a). If no
rule matches precisely, then the rules can still be used as a
framework. Id. Plaintiff cites to agency guidelines
that only apply when the Medical-Vocational rules are merely
a framework. See POMS DI 25025.015 (guiding ALJ in
making adjudicative judgments when a claimant's RFC falls
between two exertional levels); SSR 83-14, available at 1983
WL 31254, *4 (guiding ALJ when RFC combines ...