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Jerrold L. v. Saul

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

September 3, 2019

JERROLD L., 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 his 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, 1958.[2] He has a high school diploma and has worked as a construction worker. (AR 188.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in April 2015, alleging disability as of January 8, 2015.[3] (AR 162-68.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 97-99, 103-09.)

         On June 8, 2017, ALJ Allen G. Erickson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 32-77.) On May 4, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-31.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 6, 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 July 21, 2016, the amended 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 bilateral glaucoma. (AR 18.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 18.)

         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 a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following limitations: he can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can have occasional exposure to hazards including open water, open flame, and open machinery. He cannot perform commercial driving. He can have only occasional exposure to bright light. (AR 18.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 22.)

         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 performing representative occupations such as commercial/industrial cleaner, laundry worker II, and hospital food service worker. (AR 23.)

         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) finding glaucoma to be the only severe impairment at step two, (2) discounting his subjective statements, and (3) assessing the medical opinion evidence.[4] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...


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