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Susan O. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 23, 2019

SUSAN O., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michelle L. Peterson, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in (1) finding her mental impairments to be not severe at step two, (2) discounting her subjective testimony, and (3) assessing certain medical opinion evidence. (Dkt. # 12 at 1.) As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1978, has three years of college[1], and has worked as a tribal clerical administrator, delivery driver, and retail security guard. AR at 259, 287. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in February 2011. Id. at 311.

         In September 2014, Plaintiff protectively applied for benefits, alleging disability as of January 16, 2013.[2] Id. at 232-46. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 138-41, 149-56. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on March 6, 2017 (id. at 41-76), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 15-29.

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [3] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 14, 2013, the beginning of the adjudicated period.
Step two: Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, inflammatory arthritis, and fibromyalgia are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[4]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work with additional limitations: she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and never work at unprotected heights, or in proximity to hazards such as heavy machinery and dangerous moving parts. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can frequently handle and finger. She can perform work in which concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, respiratory irritants and vibration are not present. Considering the effects of pain and medication as well as intermittent mental health symptoms, she can understand, remember, and carry out unskilled, routine, and repetitive work that can be learned by demonstration, and in which the tasks are predetermined by the employer.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, Plaintiff is not disabled.

Id.

         As the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Id. at 1-6. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir. 2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of the case.” Id.

         “Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, ...


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