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Shetler S. v. Berryhill

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

June 5, 2019

SHANA S., 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 her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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 AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1964.[1] She completed the eleventh grade and has past relevant work as a caregiver. (AR 45, 55.)

         Plaintiff filed DIB and SSI applications in January and April 2015 respectively, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2013. (AR 291, 296.) The applications were denied at the initial level and on reconsideration.

         On July 17, 2017, ALJ Kimberly Boyce held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 38-59.) At hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged onset date and requested a closed period of disability from February 12, 2015 until June 1, 2016, when she returned to work at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level. (AR 41-44.) On November 29, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 22-32.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on August 30, 2018 (AR 2), 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 engaged in SGA beginning June 1, 2016, noting her hiring by employers in June and October 2016, her testimony she worked thirty-nine hours a week, and her representative's report her earnings were above SGA level. However, because there had been a continuous twelve-month period of no SGA, the ALJ rendered findings addressing a closed period.

         At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severe. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing.

         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 able to perform medium work with the following limitations: occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; understand, remember, and carry out unskilled, routine, and repetitive work that could be learned by demonstration and with tasks predetermined by the employer; occasional work setting changes; occasional interaction with supervisors; work in proximity to co-workers, but not in a teamwork, cooperative effort; and no interaction with the general public as an essential element of the job, but occasional, incidental contact not precluded. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work.

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no 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 ...


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