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Lanita K v. Saul

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

June 26, 2019

LANITA K., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Mary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 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[2], this matter is AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1968.[3] She has one year of college education, and has worked as an office manager. (AR 529, 535.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB in January 2015. (AR 497-506.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 404-427, 431-44.)

         On February 27, 2017, ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 260-307.) On September 21, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 22-37.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 30, 2018 (AR 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.


         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 23, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR 25.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's post-herpetic neuralgia, degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, and major depressive disorder. (AR 25-26.) 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 26-28.)

         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 capable of performing light work with additional limitations: she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. She can never climb or crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, pulmonary irritants, and hazards. She can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. She can do work that needs little or no judgment and can perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period. She must work with minimal supervisor contact (defined as contact that “does not preclude all contact, rather, it means contact does not occur regularly. Minimal contact also does not preclude simple and superficial exchanges and it does not preclude being in proximity to the supervisor”). She can work in proximity to co-workers, but not in a cooperative or team effort. She can have no more than superficial interaction with co-workers. She cannot interact with the general public as in as sales position or where the general public is frequently encountered as an essential element of the work process, but incidental superficial contact with the general public is not precluded. (AR 28.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work. (AR 35.)

         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. With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing other representative occupations, such as agricultural sorter, office helper, electrical accessories assembler, semiconductor wafer breaker, semiconductor die loader, and table worker. (AR 36-37.)

         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's complaint suggests that the ALJ erred in assessing her testimony, failing to develop the record, failing to follow procedures for questioning the VE or assessing a treating doctor's opinion, and failing to discuss her medication side effects. Plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ's decision omits important testimony and that exhibits were removed after the hearing. Dkt. 4 at 3. ...

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