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Nichole W. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 2, 2019

NICHOLE W., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE

          The Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income. Dkt. 16. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 39 years old, has at least a high school education, and has worked as a customer service clerk/stock clerk and as a retail store manager. Dkt. 13, Admin. Record (AR) 34. Plaintiff applied for benefits in May 2014, alleging disability as of June 9, 2007. AR 97. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 92, 107. After the ALJ conducted a hearing in September 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 41, 25-36.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the May 2014 application date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: radiculopathy, migraine headaches, and perineural cyst.
Step three: Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work, standing and walking two hours per day and sitting six hours per day. She can lift, carry, push, or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can frequently balance and can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, and stairs. She can have no exposure to vibration, extreme cold or heat, or concentrated airborne irritants. She can have moderate exposure to noise.
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, she is not disabled.

         AR 27-36. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 7.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the ALJ's decision. Dkt. 14. The Court may reverse the ALJ's decision finding a person not disabled “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The Court cannot make its own findings, but must consider the entire record as a whole in determining whether the Commissioner's conclusions have a reasonable basis. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003); Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Additionally, where a party proceeds pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the pleading liberally and afford her the benefit of any doubt. See Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). This Court may not reverse an ALJ's decision because of an error that is “harmless, ” i.e., “inconsequential to the ultimate disability determination.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1117 (9th Cir. 2012).

         A. Mental Impairments

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff's anxiety and depression were nonsevere because Plaintiff improved with treatment. AR 27. Plaintiff acknowledges that “depression … was not something that prevented [her] from working.” Dkt. 16 at 15. She contends, ...


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