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Shroma L. v. Saul

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

October 1, 2019

SHROMA 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) and partially denied his 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.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1955.[2] He has a GED, and has worked as a construction worker and temporary laborer. (AR 176-77.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in January 2010, alleging disability as of January 1, 2002.[3] (AR 57-58, 135-48.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 61-64, 68-81.)

         On November 15, 2011, ALJ Robert Kingsley held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 34-56.) On December 12, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 16-28.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 21, 2013 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff sought judicial review of this final decision of the Commissioner, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (AR 547-55.) ALJ Kingsley held another hearing on February 18, 2015, taking testimony from Plaintiff, a VE, and a medical expert (ME). (AR 494-542.) On July 31, 2015, the ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 455-86.) The Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction of the case on January 12, 2016. (AR 438-44.)

         Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for further administrative proceedings. (AR 1000-13.) ALJ S. Andrew Grace held a hearing on November 8, 2017, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a VE. (AR 905-38.) On April 5, 2018 the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of February 1, 2015, but not disabled before that date.[4] (AR 1068-82.) Plaintiff sought Appeals Council review, but the Appeals Council found no reason to assume jurisdiction. (AR 892-98.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         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 the alleged onset date. (AR 1071.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that since the alleged onset of disability, Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease; sciatica; post-traumatic stress disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; major depressive disorder; learning disorder, not otherwise specified; alcohol dependence; dysthymic disorder; reading disorder; and history of substance abuse were severe. (AR 1071.) The ALJ also found that beginning on February 1, 2015, Plaintiff's right leg pain became an additional severe impairment. (AR 1071.)

         Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that since the alleged onset date, none of Plaintiff's impairments met or equaled the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 1071-73.)

         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 that before February 1, 2015, Plaintiff was capable of performing medium work, with additional limitations: he was limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work. He could have no public contact and occasional superficial contact with co-workers. He could have occasional contact with supervisors. He was limited to low-stress work, which is defined as work requiring few decisions/changes. He could perform at a standard or ordinary pace, but not at a strict production rate pace in which the individual had no control over the speed of the work. Work tasks that were assigned must have been capable of instruction through one-on-one, hands-on demonstration rather than written instruction. (AR 1073-74.) Beginning on February 1, 2015, Plaintiff had the same RFC as described above, but was limited to light work. (AR 1078.) With those assessments in mind, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not been able to perform any past relevant work since the alleged onset date. (AR 1079.)

         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 VE's assistance, the ALJ found that before February 1, 2015, Plaintiff was capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, such as hand packager. (AR 1080.) The ALJ found that as of February 1, 2015, Plaintiff could not perform any jobs that exist in significant numbers and therefore became disabled on that date. (AR 1081.)

         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 ...


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