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Sylvia R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 14, 2019

SYLVIA R., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms Defendant's decision to deny benefits.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June 2, 2014. AR 13, 259-60. Plaintiff's application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 148-58, 160-64. An initial hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kelly Wilson on August 10, 2016. AR 83-115. Because ALJ Wilson was unavailable to issue a decision, a second hearing was held before ALJ David Johnson on July 17, 2017. AR 13, 39-82. In a decision dated September 28, 2017, ALJ Johnson determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 10-32. The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 9, 2018. AR 1-6. The ALJ's decision of September 28, 2017 is the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff appealed to this Court and seeks an order remanding this case either for further administrative proceedings or an award of benefits. Dkt. 16, p. 9.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere scintilla, '” though “‘less than a preponderance'” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.

         ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Did the ALJ err in evaluating the opinions of Michael Wingren, M.D., Eric Hofmeister, M.D., and Richard Whons, M.D.?

         2. Did the ALJ err in assessing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)?

         3. Did the ALJ err in finding that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work at step four?

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to determine, at step four, whether the plaintiff can perform past relevant work, and if necessary, at step five to determine whether the plaintiff can adjust to other work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). The ALJ has the burden of proof at step five to show that a significant number of jobs that the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

         I. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the ...


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