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Daniel G. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 18, 2019

DANIEL G., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DENIAL OF BENEFITS

          James L. Robart, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Daniel G. seeks review of the denial of his application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 3).) Plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by (1) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's symptom testimony, and (2) improperly evaluating the medical evidence. (Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. # 19) at 1.) As discussed below, the court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 13, 2014, the alleged onset date. See 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1571-76, 416.971-76.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: Degenerative disc disease with moderate lumbar changes, anxiety related disorders, and moderate level obesity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
Step three: Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926.
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”): Plaintiff can perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). He needs regular work hours and access to a bathroom at the work place for scheduled breaks. He cannot be subjected to unusual work stressors. He can engage in routine and perfunctory social interactions. He can take instructions from a supervisor and respond appropriately. He should not perform jobs that require higher level social interaction skills and/or being part of an intense collaborative project. He cannot do commercial driving.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965.
Step five: Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, 416.969(a).

(Admin. Record (“AR”) (Dkt. # 9) at 24-40.) Based on these findings, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act (“Act”), from November 13, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 40.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (See Id. at 1-4.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff bears the burden of proving he is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may only set aside a 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the court is required to examine the entire record, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A. The ALJ Did Not Harmfully Err in Discounting ...


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