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John A. v. Saul

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

June 26, 2019

JOHN A., 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 his 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, this matter is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1967.[2] He completed high school and some trade school classes, and previously worked as a tool maker and forklift operator. (AR 170, 194.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on February 22, 2016, alleging disability beginning May 29, 2013. (AR 302-03.) His application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On September 11, 2017, ALJ Malcolm Ross held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 164-200.) On February 13, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 16-28.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 31, 2018 (AR 1-6), 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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found the following impairments severe: cervical spondylosis and stenosis, status post four surgeries resulting in C5-C6 fusion; left shoulder abnormality, status post-surgical procedures; depression; and anxiety. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment.

         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 able to perform light work, with the following restrictions: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs and crawl; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch; occasionally reach overhead with bilateral upper extremities; frequently handle and finger with non-dominant left hand; occasional exposure to extreme cold, vibrations, and hazards, such as heights and machinery; occasional interaction with co-workers and members of public; and simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, in a work environment free from fast-paced production requirements. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform his past relevant work.

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no 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 jobs, such as work as a housekeeper, small products assembler, and mail clerk.

         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). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal error.”) 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 ...


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