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Stacy P. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 28, 2019

STACY P., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance 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. For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for disability benefits. Dkt. 13, Administrative Record (“AR”) 18. She alleges she became disabled as of November 30, 2010. Id. The Commissioner denied her applications on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 45-56. Plaintiff appealed that decision, and the Social Security Administration Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case. AR 62. A second hearing was held before the ALJ. AR 443-85. The ALJ again found plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 18-31. Plaintiff appeals that decision, seeking reversal and remand for further administrative proceedings.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless it is: (1) based on legal error; or (2) 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.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving any conflicts or ambiguities in the record. Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). When evidence is sufficient to support more than one outcome, the Court upholds the ALJ's decision. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674-75; Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1165 (9th Cir. 2008). The Court may not affirm by locating a quantum of supporting evidence and ignoring the non-supporting evidence. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and evidence that does not support the ALJ's conclusion. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court may not affirm the ALJ's decision for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id. at 1010. Only the reasons the ALJ identifies are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.

         ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Whether the ALJ was required to further develop the record.

         2. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence.

         3. Whether the ALJ erred in discounting plaintiff's testimony about her symptoms and limitations.

         4. Whether the ALJ erred in discounting a lay witness statement from plaintiff's friend.

         5. Whether any of the above alleged errors resulted in an erroneous residual functional capacity (RFC) determination.

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step five of that process, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine whether he or she can make an adjustment to other work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). It is the ALJ's burden to show the claimant can perform jobs that exist “in significant numbers ...


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