United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
Michelle L. Peterson, United States Magistrate Judge.
seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) erred by rejecting Plaintiff's
testimony regarding the severity of her impairments;
rejecting the lay witness testimony of Plaintiff's
husband; evaluating the medical opinion evidence; and
assessing Plaintiff's RFC. (Dkt. # 10.) As discussed
below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final
decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
was born in 1972, and has a high school education. AR at 23,
34. At the time of her administrative hearing, Plaintiff was
working two full days per week as a receptionist with a
company called Beauty Career. Id. at 35, 71. She
previously worked as a dispensing optician for twenty-five
years. Id. at 56, 70.
March 31, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of September 21, 2014 due to nerve pain
throughout her body, neuropathy, back pain, migraine
headaches, anxiety and depression, poor memory, fatigue,
blurred vision, hand problems, tremors, and constipation. AR
at 15, 86-87, 99. Plaintiff's applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a
hearing. Id. The ALJ conducted a hearing on May 25,
2017 (AR at 29-84), and Plaintiff testified that multiple
sclerosis (MS) was her primary impairment limiting her
ability to work. Id. at 44-45. She also described
symptoms of anxiety and depression. Id. at 48-49.
issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR at
12-24. Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process,
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 21, 2014, the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
multiple sclerosis, depressive disorder, and anxiety
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform less than
the full range of sedentary work. Plaintiff can engage in
unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two hour increments.
She can do occasional stooping, squatting, crouching,
crawling, kneeling, and climbing ramps and stairs. She can do
no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds. She is absent
from work up to 5 days per year. She is off task at work up
to 8% of the time but still meeting the minimum production
requirements of the job.
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. at 15-28.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. AR at 1-4. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of
the Commissioner to this Court.
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.
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.
The ALJ Did Not Err by Discounting Plaintiff's
Legal Standard for Evaluating the Plaintiff's
the province of the ALJ to determine what weight should be
afforded to a claimant's testimony, and this
determination will not be disturbed unless it is not
supported by substantial evidence. A determination of whether
to accept a claimant's subjective symptom testimony
requires a two-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1529; Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th
Cir. 1996). First, the ALJ must determine whether there is a
medically determinable impairment that reasonably could be
expected to cause the claimant's symptoms. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(b); Smolen, 80 F.3d at
1281-82. Once a claimant produces medical evidence of an
underlying impairment, the ALJ may not discredit the
claimant's testimony as to the severity of symptoms
solely because they are unsupported by objective medical
evidence. Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 343
(9th Cir. 1991) (en banc); Reddick v. Chater, 157
F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1988). Absent affirmative evidence
showing that the claimant is malingering, ...