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Melinda B. v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

MELINDA B., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and 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, 1986.[2] She has a high school diploma, and has worked as a cashier, office clerk, fast food worker, telephone representative, and housekeeper. (AR 132, 347.) Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB and SSI in January 2014. (AR 166, 197, 317-29.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 210-13, 216-21.)

         In 2015-17, ALJs James W. Sherry and Glenn G. Meyers held five hearings, taking testimony from Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother and boyfriend, and vocational experts (VEs). (AR 41-165.) On April 19, 2017, ALJ Meyers issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 22-34.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 4, 2018 (AR 5-10), 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 October 7, 2012, the alleged onset date. (AR 25.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's autonomic small fiber neuropathy. (AR 25-26.) 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 26.)

         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 sedentary work, with additional limitations: she can perform unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. She must be able to alternate between sitting and standing at will throughout the workday while remaining at the workstation. She can occasionally stoop, squat, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb stairs and ramps. She can never climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. She will be off-task at work up to 15% of the time, but can still meet the minimum production requirements of the job. She will have eight unexcused absences per year. (AR 26.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as a telemarketer. (AR 32.)

         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 a VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, such as order clerk, addresser, and final assembler. (AR 32-34.)

         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 assessing the medical opinions and in discounting her testimony.[3] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         Subjective ...

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