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Aaron G. v. Saul

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

September 13, 2019

AARON G., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1963.[2] He has a high school diploma, and has worked as a car mechanic, material handler, cook helper, and lot attendant. (AR 89.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in December 2014. (AR 130, 246-51.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 160-68, 170-79.)

         On November 14, 2017, ALJ Glenn G. Meyers held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 65-99.) On December 13, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-27.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 26, 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.


         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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 December 18, 2014, the application date. (AR 17.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, left shoulder degenerative joint disease, sphincter prolapse versus lax sphincter, carpal tunnel syndrome, adjustment disorder, and unspecified anxiety disorder. (AR 17-18.) 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 19-21.)

         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: he requires a sit/stand option provided at work, and can lift/carry 10 pounds frequently and occasionally. He can perform unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. He can occasionally reach overhead, and can frequently reach at or below shoulder level. He can frequently handle and finger. He cannot work at heights, balance, or drive, or work in proximity to hazardous conditions. He can occasionally stoop and crouch, but cannot squat, crawl, kneel, or climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (AR 21.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (AR 25.)

         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 assistance of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations such as order caller, counter clerk, and information clerk. (AR 26-27.)

         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) assessing certain medical opinions, (2) formulating the RFC assessment, and (3) entering findings at step five. Dkt. 10. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is free of harmful legal error and is supported by substantial evidence, and should therefore be affirmed.

         Medical ...

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