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Kim Y. v. Berryhill

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

June 4, 2019

KIM Y., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner 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 administrative proceedings.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1963.[1] She has a one year of college education and additional training as a certified nurse's assistant, and previously worked as a teacher's aide, caregiver and newspaper production artist. (AR 284, 290, 329.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB in January 2015. (AR 261-70.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 175-82, 185-91.)

         In November 2016 and April 2017, ALJ Glenn G. Meyers held hearings, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 42-101.) On May 17, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 18-27.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 26, 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.


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


         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 December 9, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR 20.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's type 1 diabetes and alcohol addiction in remission. (AR 20-22.) 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. (AR 22.)

         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 Plaintiff capable of performing light work, with additional limitations: she would be absent from work up to one time per month, and would be off-task at work up to 7% but still able to meet the minimum production requirements of the job. She must work without temperature extremes or uneven surfaces. She cannot work at any height. She cannot balance, drive, or climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, squat, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps and stairs. (AR 22.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (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. With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative jobs, including marker, label remover, and table cover folder. (AR 26.)

         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 argues the ALJ erred in (1) discounting medical opinions provided by an examining psychologist and a treating endocrinologist, and (2) discounting her own subjective testimony. Dkt. 10 at 1. Plaintiff also contends that lay statements submitted for the first time to the Appeals Council undermine the ALJ's decision. Dkt. 10 at 13-14. Plaintiff argues that these errors should be remedied by a remand for a finding of disability, or for further proceedings ...

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