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Guadalupe O. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 29, 2019

GUADALUPE O., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by discounting her subjective testimony, the lay testimony, and the opinions of treating providers. (Dkt. # 12.) As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1976, has some college education, and has worked as a dairy milker, lumber labeler/wrapper, machine operator, and tutor. AR at 307. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in May 2014. Id. at 306.

         In June 2014, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of May 5, 2014. AR at 272-85. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 148-54, 157-68. After the ALJ conducted hearings in 2016 and 2017 (id. at 34-111), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 16-26.

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

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff's thyroid cancer is a severe impairment.
Step three: This impairment does not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work with additional limitations: she can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for a total of about 4 hours in an 8-hour workday, or do work tasks that allow for a sit/stand option. She can sit (with normal breaks) for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She cannot perform at a production-rate pace (e.g. assembly line work or work where pace is set by machine), but is able to perform goal-oriented work (e.g. work of an office cleaner or work where pace is set by a worker rather than a machine). She may be off-task 10% over the course of an 8-hour day.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform her past relevant work.
Step five: As there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, Plaintiff is not disabled.

AR at 16-26.

         As the 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.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under 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.

         “Substantial 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, ...


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