United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DENIAL OF
J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joseph R. seeks review of the denial of his application for
disability insurance and supplemental security income
benefits. Plaintiff contends that (1) the administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) erred by finding that Plaintiff
could perform his past work as a cashier, and (2) the case
must be remanded because the ALJ was not properly appointed
under the constitutional Appointments Clause. Pl. Op. Br.
(Dkt. # 11) at 1. Because the Court finds that this case can
be resolved based on Plaintiff's first claim of error,
and based on the principle of constitutional avoidance, the
Court declines to reach Plaintiff's second claim of
error. See Copeland v. Ryan, 852 F.3d 900, 905 (9th
Cir. 2017) (declining to address claim of error based on
constitutional grounds where case could be resolved on
another ground). 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).
filed for disability insurance and supplemental security
income benefits on April 9, 2015. Admin. Record
(“AR”) (Dkt. # 9) at 99, 251-65. Plaintiff
alleged a disability onset date of January 14, 2014.
Id. at 99. The Social Security Administration denied
his claims initially and on reconsideration. Id. at
9, 2017, ALJ Laura Valente held a hearing, at which Plaintiff
and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified.
Id. at 64-96. On December 14, 2017, ALJ Valente
issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and denying
his benefits claim. Id. at 44-55.
The ALJ's Decision
the five-step disability evaluation process, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920, ALJ Valente found that
Plaintiff had briefly engaged in substantial gainful activity
in mid-2014, but had no other periods of gainful activity
since January 14, 2014, the alleged onset date. AR at 46. ALJ
Valente found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of
“epilepsy and/or other seizure disorder, and organic
mental disorder (with possible remote cerebrovascular
accident).” Id. at 47. The ALJ concluded that
these impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or
medically equal the severity of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.
Valente determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work, except that he could never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolding. Id. at 49. Plaintiff needed to avoid
all exposure to hazards. Id. Plaintiff had
sufficient concentration to understand, remember, and carry
out simple, routine tasks. Plaintiff could adapt to simple
workplace changes as may be required by such tasks.
four of the disability evaluation process, considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, ALJ
Valente determined that Plaintiff could perform past relevant
work as a cashier II. Id. at 54. Based on these
findings, ALJ Valente determined that Plaintiff had not been
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
from January 14, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.
Id. at 1-3. The ALJ's decision thus became the
Commissioner's final decision. 20 C.F.R. §§
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).
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 ALJ.
See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.