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John W. v. Berryhill

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

June 4, 2019

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

          ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner partially denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1957.[1] He has one year of college education, and has worked as a truck driver, structural fitter, laborer, deckhand engineer, carpenter, and hazardous material handler. (AR 222, 257, 264.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB in September 2014. (AR 202-09.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 129-36, 141-60.)

         On October 13, 2016, ALJ Glenn G. Meyers held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 35-66.) On May 17, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled before September 30, 2015, but disabled as of that date and thereafter. (AR 16-27.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 22, 2018 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         JURISDICTION

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

         DISCUSSION

         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, January 27, 2013. (AR 19.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's bilateral knee degenerative joint disease, right ankle degenerative joint disease, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol and substance abuse in remission. (Id.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (Id.)

         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 that before September 30, 2015, Plaintiff was capable of performing medium work with additional limitations: he could perform unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. He must work without uneven surfaces. He was limited to occasional stooping, squatting, crouching, crawling, kneeling, and climbing stairs and ramps. He could not climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. He could not balance. He would be absent up to 12 times per year. He would be off task up to 7% of the time at work, but could still meet the minimum production requirement of the job. He cannot work in close proximity to hazardous conditions. (AR 20.) The ALJ found that beginning on September 30, 2015, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with the same additional limitations listed above. (AR 24.) With those RFC assessments in mind, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not able to perform any past relevant work since the alleged onset date. (AR 25.)

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform 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. The ALJ found that before September 30, 2015, Plaintiff could transition to other representative jobs, such as airplane cleaner, advertising material distributor, and janitor. (AR 26.) The ALJ found that beginning on September 30, 2015, Plaintiff could not perform any jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, under the Medical-Vocational Rules. (AR 26-27.)

         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). 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 arguesthe ALJ erred in (1) assessing the opinion of examining psychologist James Czysz, Psy.D., and (2) discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.[2] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...


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