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King v. Saul

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

July 26, 2019

JEANNE K., 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and 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, 1966.[2] She has a high school diploma, and has worked as an in-home caregiver, supervisory pawn broker, retail cashier, and travel agent. (AR 248, 263.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in August 2015. (AR 219-26.) Those applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 139-46, 149-63.)

         On June 6, 2017, ALJ Glenn G. Meyers held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 40-78.) On February 22, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-28.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 24, 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 February 28, 2015, the alleged onset date. (AR 17.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder. (AR 17-18.) 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 18-19.)

         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 light work with additional limitations: she can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can perform occasional stooping, squatting, crouching, crawling, kneeling, and climbing ramps and stairs, and can never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. She can engage in unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. She can work in proximity to but not in coordination with co-workers, with occasional contact with supervisors and superficial, incidental contact with the public. She will be off-task at work up to 10% of the time, but can still meet the minimum production requirements of the job. She will be absent from work one time per month. (AR 19.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 26.)

         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 help of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, such as office helper, maid, and mailroom clerk. (AR 27-28.)

         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 failing to further develop the record, and also erred in a number of other ways. Dkt. 10 at 2. The Commissioner argues that any errors are harmless, and that the ALJ's ...


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