United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
Michelle L. Peterson United States Magistrate Judge.
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. (Dkt. # 13 at 1.) As discussed below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and
DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
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.
February 2011, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of December 31, 2005. 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.
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.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  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
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
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
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.
appealed the final decision of the Commissioner to this
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.
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.
The ALJ Did Not Err in Assessing Certain ...