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Dhaliwal v. Saul

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

June 27, 2019

MICHELLE D., 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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1969.[2] She has a high school diploma, and has worked as a medical biller, in-home caregiver, manufacturing laborer, and auto supply parts driver. (AR 306, 335.)

         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI in September 2015. (AR 180, 283-89.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 211-19, 223-32.)

         On July 20, 2017, ALJ Gerald Hill held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 109-54.) On December 29, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 24-34.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 21, 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 September 29, 2015, the application date. (AR 27.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's major depressive disorder, obesity, and genetic disorder with findings most consistent with myotonia congenita. (Id.) 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 27-28.)

         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 sedentary work, with additional limitations: she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can perform work that does not expose her to extreme temperatures, humidity, or hazards. She can perform simple repetitive tasks. She can tolerate occasional superficial contact with co-workers. She can perform work that does not require contact with the public. She can tolerate few workplace changes. (AR 28.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work as a telemarketer. (AR 32-33.)

         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 transitioning to other representative occupations, such as bench hand, table worker, and masker. (AR 33-34.)

         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) assessing the opinion of examining physician Beth Liu, M.D.; (2) discounting her subjective symptom testimony; and (3) failing to incorporate all of the restrictions in the RFC assessment contained in the prior ALJ decision. The Commissioner argues that ...


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