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Angela W. v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2019

ANGELA W., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.



         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for 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 AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1975.[1] She completed the tenth grade of high school and has no past relevant work. (AR 31, 51-52, 201.)

         Plaintiff filed an SSI application on November 12, 2014, alleging disability beginning July 12, 2007. (See AR 15.) The application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration.

         On March 16, 2017, ALJ Allen Erickson held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 43-88.) At hearing, plaintiff amended the alleged onset date to November 12, 2014, the date of her SSI application. (AR 49-50.) On July 19, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-33.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on August 7, 2018 (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.


         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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 plaintiff's cervical spine degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), and generalized anxiety disorder severe. He found several other diagnoses/conditions not severe, including substance abuse disorder (methamphetamine and inhalants) in full, sustained remission since late 2014. 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 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 only occasional climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds, crawling, overhead reaching bilaterally, and exposure to vibration, extreme cold temperatures, bright light, loud noise, and concentrated levels of dust, fumes, odors, gases, and poor ventilation. Plaintiff could understand, remember, and apply short, simple instructions, while performing only routine, predictable tasks; cannot work in a fast-paced production type environment; can make simple, work-related decisions and have exposure to only few workplace changes; and is limited to only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. She had no past relevant work to consider.

         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 found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as an electrical accessories assembler, marker, and hotel/motel housekeeper.

         This 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. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in rejecting a medical opinion and that the error was harmful. She requests remand for further administrative proceedings. The Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision ...

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