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Lisha H. v. Saul

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

August 5, 2019

LISA H., 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) 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 AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1959.[2] She has an 11th-grade education, and has worked as a restaurant server and banquet server. (AR 46, 57-58.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in March 2015. (AR 70, 135-36.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 89-91, 93-98.)

         On November 27, 2017, ALJ Ilene Sloan held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 25-69.) On February 15, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 11-19.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 16, 2018 (AR 1-5), 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 between her alleged onset and date last insured (DLI). (AR 13.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's obesity, status post cervical spine fusion with stenosis, early acquired scoliosis, and degenerative disc disease with facet arthropathy was severe. (AR 14.) 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 14-15.)

         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 frequently climb ramps and stairs and occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can frequently balance. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (AR 15.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as a waitress and caterer's helper. (AR 18.)

         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. Because the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. (AR 18-19.)

         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 (1) discounting her subjective symptom testimony, (2) discounting her husband's letter, and (3) discounting her treating doctor's opinions. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...


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