United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks review of the denial of his application for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred in evaluating medical opinion
evidence; formulating the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); evaluating Plaintiff's symptom
testimony; and relying on vocational expert
(“VE”) testimony. (Dkt. # 11.) 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).
was born in 1966, has a GED, and has worked as an auto
technician and laborer. AR at 224, 248. Plaintiff was last
gainfully employed in 2011. Id. at 223.
15, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability
as of December 31, 2011. AR at 198-210. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration,
and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 59, 78,
146-48. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on October 24,
2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled. AR at 15-23.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 31, 2011.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
left shoulder degenerative joint disease; right thumb
degenerative joint disease; left hand carpal tunnel syndrome
(20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He can
lift/carry and push/pull ten pounds frequently and
occasionally. With the dominant right hand he can
occasionally do handling and fingering. With the left hand he
can frequently do handling and fingering. With the left upper
extremity he can do no overhead reaching, and can
occasionally reach at or below shoulder level. He can
occasionally crawl. He can do no climbing of ropes, ladders
and scaffolds. He is capable of engaging in unskilled,
repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform,
Plaintiff is not disabled.
AR at 15-23.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. AR at 1-6. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of
the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 11.)
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's 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 (9th Cir.
2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be
deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the
ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited
sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a
whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of
the case.” Id.
evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a
preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir.
1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility,
resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any
other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the
Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may
neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
The ALJ Did Not Err in Evaluating Plaintiff's Symptom
Standards for Evaluating Plaintiff's Testimony
the province of the ALJ to determine what weight should be
afforded to a claimant's testimony, and this
determination will not be disturbed unless it is not
supported by substantial evidence. A determination of whether
to accept a claimant's subjective symptom testimony
requires a two-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1529, 416.929; Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1281. First,
the ALJ must determine whether there is a medically
determinable impairment that reasonably could be expected to
cause the claimant's symptoms. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1529(b), 416.929(b); Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1281-82.
Once a claimant produces medical evidence of an underlying
impairment, the ALJ may not discredit the claimant's
testimony as to the severity of symptoms solely because they
are unsupported by objective medical evidence. Bunnell v.
Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 343 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc);
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir.
1988). Absent affirmative evidence showing that the claimant
is malingering, the ALJ must provide “clear and
convincing” reasons for rejecting the claimant's
testimony. Burrell v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 1133, 1136-37
(9th Cir. 2014) (citing Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d
1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012)). See also Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007).
evaluating a claimant's subjective symptom testimony, the
ALJ must specifically identify what testimony is not credible
and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints;
general findings are insufficient. Smolen, 80 F.3d
at 1284; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 722. The ALJ may
consider “ordinary techniques of credibility
evaluation, ” including a claimant's reputation for
truthfulness, inconsistencies in testimony or between
testimony and conduct, daily activities, work record, and
testimony from physicians and third parties concerning the
nature, severity, and effect of the alleged symptoms.
Thomas, 278 F.3d at 958-59 (citing Light v.
Social Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d 789, 792 (9th Cir. 1997)).
ALJ Provided Clear and Convincing Reasons for