United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge
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 AFFIRMED.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on XXXX, 1962. He completed high school, two years of
college, and obtained a certification as a nursing assistant.
(AR 764, 779.) He previously worked as a vocational trainer,
union organizer, nursing assistant, and warehouse worker.
(Id. and AR 478)
filed a DIB application on October 11, 2012, alleging
disability beginning December 1, 2009. (AR 172.) His
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. ALJ
Virginia Robinson held a hearing on November 21, 2013, taking
testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR
31-71.) At hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged onset date
to March 4, 2011. (AR 18, 36.) On January 31, 2014, the ALJ
found plaintiff not disabled. (AR 18-26.)
timely appealed and the Appeals Council denied the request
for review. (AR 1.) Plaintiff appealed the final decision of
the Commissioner to this Court and, on March 7, 2016, the
Court issued an order remanding the case for further
administrative proceedings. (AR 571-90.) The Court directed
that, on remand, the ALJ should reconsider the medical
opinion evidence of record, particularly the opinions of Dr.
Paul Lewis; take the opportunity to reconsider and fully
address any evidence associated with psoriatic arthritis at
step two and beyond; and reassess plaintiff's claims at
all steps of the sequential evaluation process as may be
warranted by further consideration of the medical evidence.
Appeals Council vacated the final ALJ decision and remanded
for further proceedings. (AR 593.) The Appeals Council noted
plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security
Income (SSI) on April 28, 2014, which was initially allowed
on August 6, 2014 and plaintiff was found disabled as of the
application date. Plaintiff did not receive SSI because he
did not financially qualify at that time. (AR 711-25.) The
Appeals Council directed the ALJ to consider evidence in the
SSI application “pertinent to the current case's
period-at-issue.” (AR 593.)
held a second hearing on September 8, 2016, taking testimony
from plaintiff. (AR 491-524.) She subsequently supplemented
the record with the opinions of two state agency doctors
taken from the 2014 SSI case and plaintiff amended his
alleged onset date a second time, to October 12, 2012. (AR
807, 810.) The ALJ issued a second decision on April 4, 2018.
(AR 462-80.) She clarified that the period under
consideration began as of the October 12, 2012 amended onset
date and extended through December 31, 2014, plaintiff's
“date last insured” (DLI) for DIB benefits. (AR
463.) The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled within that time
second decision, the ALJ noted plaintiff filed another SSI
application in August 2016. (AR 754-60.) The application was
denied initially and on reconsideration and, at the time of
the ALJ's April 2018 decision, plaintiff's request
for a hearing was pending. (See AR 463.) While the
SSI applications were not consolidated with the DIB
application under consideration, the ALJ, as directed by the
Appeals Council, considered evidence associated with the SSI
applications. (Id.) The ALJ stated an earlier DIB
application, filed in 2010 and administratively final as of
January 2012, was not reopened with the October 2012 DIB
appealed the final ALJ decision to this Court. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.984, 416.1484.
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 plaintiff's
degenerative disc disease, frozen left shoulder, other
unspecified arthropathies, and psoriatic arthritis severe.
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
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 the
following limitations: stand or walk four hours and sit six
hours in an eight-hour workday, in a job with some duties
performed while seated and some while standing, so that the
person would be changing their position throughout the day in
the normal course of their duties; never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; unlimited reaching, except occasional overhead
reaching with the left upper extremity; frequent fingering;
and avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, excessive
vibration, and workplace hazards, such as dangerous machinery
and unprotected heights. With that assessment, and with the
assistance of the VE, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform
past relevant work as an instructor, vocational training and
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 an assembler and
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.
argues the ALJ erred in evaluating medical opinions and in
classifying his past relevant work. He requests remand for an
award of benefits or, in the alternative, for further
administrative proceedings. The Commissioner argues the
ALJ's decision has the support of substantial evidence
and should be affirmed.