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Kay T. v. Commissioner of social Security

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

June 10, 2019

KAY T., Plaintiff,


          Michelle L. Peterson United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff seeks review of the partial denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and the denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by, with respect to the period before September 2015, (1) discounting certain medical opinions, (2) discounting his subjective testimony, and (3) discounting lay statements written by agency personnel and Plaintiff's parents.[1] (Dkt. # 13 at 1.) As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.


         Plaintiff was born in 1961, has an 11th-grade education, and has worked as a carpet installer, cook, and bartender. AR at 285, 577. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in 2007. Id. at 840.

         In February 2011, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of December 31, 2005.[2] AR at 260-76. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 193-207. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on July 11, 2012 (id. at 110-34), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 20-31. Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision, and this Court granted the parties' stipulation to reverse the ALJ's decision and remanded for further administrative proceeding. Id. at 958-59.

         A different ALJ held a hearing on May 31, 2017 (AR at 835-65), and subsequently found Plaintiff not disabled before September 1, 2015, but disabled as of that date. Id. at 809-25.

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [3] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff's mild foot and hand degenerative joint disease; degenerative disc disease and scoliosis; chronic pain disorder; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; hip osteoarthritis and femoroacetabular impingement; torticollis; attention deficit disorder; anxiety disorder; personality disorder, not otherwise specified; post-traumatic stress disorder; schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type; and cognitive disorder, not otherwise specified, are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[4]
RFC: Before September 1, 2015, Plaintiff could perform light work, with additional limitations: he was limited to lifting and/or carrying up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He could stand and/or walk up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. He could occasionally climb, kneel, and crouch. He was limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work, and limited to low-stress work (work requiring few decisions or changes). He could have no public contact, occasional superficial contact with co-workers, and occasional contact with supervisors. He could perform at a standard or ordinary pace, but not at a strict production rate pace in which he would have no control over the speed of the work. He needed to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and pulmonary irritants.
Beginning on September 1, 2015, he had the same RFC as above, but with an additional limitation: he would be expected to be off-task 15-20 percent of the workday, and thus less productive than other co-workers.
Step four: Plaintiff could not perform his past work at any time.
Step five: Before September 1, 2015, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, and thus he was not disabled during that time period. Beginning on September 1, 2015, there were no such jobs that he could perform, and thus his disability began on that date.

Id. at 809-25.

         Plaintiff appealed the final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.


         Under 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.

         “Substantial 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. Id.


         A. The ALJ Did Not Err in Assessing Certain ...

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