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Nicholas W. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 16, 2019

NICHOLAS W., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          THERESA L. FRICKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Nicholas W. has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and requests that the Court remand for an award of benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the defendant's decision to deny benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in February and March 2011, alleging he became disabled as of June 9, 2009. Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (AR) 1306. Both applications were denied at the initial and reconsideration administrative review levels, and an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision after a hearing. Id.

         This is plaintiff's third appeal of his case to this Court. In deciding his two prior appeals, in 2014 and 2016, this Court remanded based on errors in the ALJ decision. See AR 790, 1418. In the most recent decision, this Court reversed the ALJ's decision on only one issue: the amount of weight to give two opinions from an examining psychologist, Shawn Kenderdine, Ph.D. AR 1420-32.

         On remand, the ALJ held another hearing. AR 1334-52. Plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert. Id. In a written decision, the ALJ found at step five that before plaintiff's job category changed on August 16, 2016, he could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore was not disabled. AR 1322-23. Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, seeking reversal and remand for an award of benefits for this period. Dkt. 1.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id.; Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir. 2017).

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.

         “If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, ” that decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm the decision actually made.” Id. at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Did the ALJ err in rejecting opinions from a psychologist who examined plaintiff?

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The Commissioner assesses a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine, at step four of the process, whether past relevant work can be performed, and, if necessary, to determine at step five whether the claimant can adjust to other work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). At step five, the ALJ has the burden of proof, which can be met by showing a significant number of jobs exist in ...


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