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Cara C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 30, 2019

CARA C., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by rejecting several medical and lay witness opinions and failing to account for their consistency with each other. Dkt. 10. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 32 years old, has at least a high school education, and has worked as a cook hel she was struck by a motor vehicle. AR 70, 649. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, on reconsideration, and in an August 2014 ALJ decision. AR 69, 83, 97, 116, 12-23. Plaintiff appealed to this court, which reversed the 2014 ALJ decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. AR 767. After additional ALJ hearings were held in July 2017 and April 2018, the ALJ issued a decision in October 2018 finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 671, 720, 642-62.


Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the October 2011 alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: cervical myofascial pain syndrome, cubital tunnel in left upper extremity, carpal tunnel syndrome in the right upper extremity, anxiety disorder, moderate depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
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, lifting 20 pounds maximum and 10 pounds frequently, and standing/walking 6 hours per day. She cannot crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, stoop, bend squat, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs. She can use her upper extremities frequently for handling and fingering, but her left upper extremity is limited to occasional feeling. She can understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work setting. She is limited to occasional and superficial interaction with the general public and frequent interaction with supervisors and coworkers, in a setting that does not involve working in a highly interactive or interdependent workgroup.
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 645-62. The Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction, thus making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.[3]


         This Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of Social Security benefits only if the ALJ's decision is based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). Each of an ALJ's findings must be supported by substantial evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). “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 evaluating evidence, 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. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954, 957 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one interpretation, the ALJ's interpretation must be upheld if rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005). This Court “may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although the ALJ found that Plaintiff has both physical and mental impairments, Plaintiff challenges only the ALJ's conclusions regarding her mental impairments. Dkt. 10.

         A. ...

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