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Teresa H. v. Saul

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

June 18, 2019

TERESA H., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] 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 application for 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 AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1963.[2] She has two years of college education, and previously worked as a retail store assistant manager, cashier, driver, plastic factory molding operator, certified nursing assistant, and community support manager at a long-term care facility. (AR 67, 239, 255.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in December 2015. (AR 218-19.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 131-33, 138-46.)

         On April 4, 2017, ALJ David Johnson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 62-110.) On July 21, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 26-52.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 2, 2018 (AR 1-7), 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 did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period between her alleged onset date (April 2, 2009) and her date last insured (DLI) (June 30, 2013). (AR 28.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's cervical sprain, spinal abnormalities, radiculitis, right shoulder sprain, degenerative joint disease, thoracolumbar sprain, radiculopathy, lupus, fibromyalgia, emphysema/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial lung disease, Raynaud's phenomenon, and bursitis were severe. (AR 28-30.) 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 30-33.)

         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 through the DLI, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with additional limitations: she could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could frequently climb ramps or stairs. She could occasionally reach overhead with her right arm. She could not have concentrated exposure to extreme cold, pulmonary irritants, or hazards. (AR 33.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as an auto driver, packing and shipping clerk, cashier II, sales clerk, and social service aide. (AR 49-50.)

         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 proceeded to step five in the alternative, finding that Plaintiff could perform other representative jobs such as storage facility rental clerk, small product assembler, mail clerk, semiconductor bonder, and document preparer. (AR 51-52.)

         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) excluding mental health conditions at step two; (2) assessing certain medical opinions; and (3) assessing her RFC.[3] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...


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