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Kevin B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 29, 2019

KEVIN B., Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of his applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in discounting his testimony and assessing the medical opinion evidence.[1] (Dkt. # 11 at 1.) As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that the Commissioner's brief contains formatting irregularities, namely condensed spacing. (Dkt. # 15.) This spacing detracts from the readability of the document and in the future, counsel shall refrain from utilizing this feature or pleadings may be stricken.

         As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.


         Plaintiff was born in 1967, has a high school diploma, and has worked as a construction day laborer and window warehouse laborer. AR at 40-42, 214. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in December 2009. Id. at 213.

         In July 2014, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of December 9, 2009. AR at 60-61, 189-97, 209-10. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 120-26, 132-46. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on November 16, 2016 (id. at 37-54), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 15-30.

Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 30, 2013.
Step two: Plaintiff's cervical myeloradiculopathy, status post failed anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, headaches, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, right femoral acetabular impingement, and chronic meniscal tear of the right knee are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[3]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work with additional limitations: he is limited to occasional overhead reaching bilaterally. He is limited to occasionally climbing ladders, scaffolds, ramps, and stairs, and crawling. He is limited to frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, and crouching. He can never work around hazards such as unprotected heights or heavy operating machinery. He cannot operate a motor vehicle. He is precluded from working in extreme cold conditions, or with machinery causing vibrations.
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.


         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.


         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, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld. Id.

         IV. ...

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