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Samraing K. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 20, 2019

SAMRAING K., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge

         Samraing K. has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) 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 below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Did the ALJ give valid, supported reasons to discount an examining psychologist's opinion?

         2. Did the ALJ err in failing to include additional mental-health limitations in plaintiff's residual functional capacity?

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI in March 2015, alleging he became disabled as of February 1, 2009. Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (AR) 15. (Plaintiff later amended his alleged onset date to June 29, 2013. AR 334.) His application was denied at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. AR 15.

         After a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that plaintiff was not disabled. AR 17-24 (decision dated July 26, 2017); AR 77-114 (hearing transcript). She conducted the five step analysis and determined (at step five) there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. AR 23-24. Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, seeking reversal and remand for an award of benefits.

         III. 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.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir. 2017).

         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. The Court considers only the reasons the ALJ identified. Id.

         “If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, ” that decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). That is, “‘[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, '” the Court “‘must affirm the decision actually made.'” Id. (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step four of that process, the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine whether past relevant work can be performed, and, if necessary, at step five to determine whether an adjustment to other work can be made. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). At step five, the Commissioner has the burden of proof, which can be met by showing a significant number of jobs exist in ...


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