United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DENIAL OF
S. LASNIK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kathleen S. appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), which denied her application
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§401-33, after a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth
below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and
REMANDED for further administrative proceedings under 42
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 42-year-old woman with a high school education.
See Admin. Record (“AR”) at 69.
Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of May
2, 2017. Id. at 112. Her claims were denied on
initial administrative review and on reconsideration.
Id. at 112-33. On September 6, 2018, ALJ Malcolm
Ross held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational
expert testified. Id. at 64-110.
December 4, 2018, ALJ Ross issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at 16-27.
The Appeals Council denied review. Id. at 2-4.
Plaintiff then sought review before this Court. Compl. (Dkt.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), the Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a
scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might
exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record
as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111,
1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The Act defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity” due to a physical or mental impairment that
has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A
claimant is disabled under the Act only if her impairments
are of such severity that she is unable to do her previous
work, and cannot, considering her age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other substantial gainful activity
existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(2)(A); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant bears the burden of proof
during steps one through four. Valentine v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). At
step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.
Id. If a claimant is found to be disabled at any
step in the sequence, the inquiry ends without the need to
consider subsequent steps. Step one asks whether the claimant
is presently engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(b). If she is,
disability benefits are denied. If she is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. Id. At step two,
the claimant must establish that she has one or more
medically severe impairments, or combination of impairments,
that limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c). If the claimant does
not have such impairments, she is not disabled. Id.
If the claimant does have a severe impairment, the
Commissioner moves to step three to determine whether the
impairment meets or equals any of the listed impairments
described in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d). A
claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the listings
for the required 12-month duration is disabled. Id.
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner
must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the
physical and mental demands of the claimant's past
relevant work to determine whether she can still perform that
work. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(f). If the claimant is able to
perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; if the
opposite is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at step five to show that the claimant can perform other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy,
taking into consideration the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(g);
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099-100. If the Commissioner
finds the claimant is unable to perform other work, then the
claimant is found disabled and benefits may be awarded. 20
December 4, 2018, ALJ Ross issued a decision finding the
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 2, 2017, the alleged onset date.
See 20 C.F.R. §§404.1571-76.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Complex
regional pain syndrome I (“CRPS”) of the
bilateral lower limbs, plantar fasciitis, right first
metatarsophalangeal joint hallux rigidus, posttraumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), chronic adjustment
disorder with anxious and depressed mood, and migraine
headaches. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526.
4. The claimant has the RFC to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b), with exceptions. She can
frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
She can frequently handle and finger bilaterally. She can
withstand frequent exposure to extreme cold, vibrations, and
hazards such as heights and machinery. She must avoid
exposure to noise levels in excess of level three. She can
perform simple and complex tasks, and can have occasional,
superficial interaction with the public, coworkers, and
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
See 20 C.F.R. §404.1565.
6. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See 20 C.F.R. §§404.1569,
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Act, from the alleged disability onset date through
the date of the ALJ's decision. See 20 C.F.R.
AR at 16-27.
ISSUES ON APPEAL
Whether the ALJ reasonably evaluated Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony.
Whether the ALJ reasonably evaluated the medical evidence.
Whether the ALJ reasonably evaluated Plaintiff's
husband's statements. Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. #9) at 1.
Plaintiff argues that, if the Court finds error, it should