United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION
AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE
Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.
seeks review of the denial of his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by
rejecting his testimony and several medical opinions, and
erred in determining his residual functional capacity. Dkt.
17, 19. As discussed below, the Court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final
decision and DISMISSES the case with
is currently 58 years old, has at least a high school
education, and has no past relevant work. Dkt. 15, Admin.
Record (AR) 60. Plaintiff applied for benefits in November
2011, alleging disability beginning November 4, 2008. AR 119.
He later amended the alleged onset date to June 30, 2010. AR
79. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, on
reconsideration, and in a 2013 ALJ decision. AR 130, 131,
25-42. On appeal to this court, the 2013 decision was
reversed for failure to properly consider the opinions of two
state agency nonexamining psychologists and remanded for
further administrative proceedings. AR 687-98. On remand,
after the ALJ conducted hearings in May 2016 and January
2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled. AR 613, 629, 595-606.
date last insured was December 31, 2011. Using the five-step
disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found that for the
relevant period from June 2010 through December 2011:
Step one: Plaintiff engaged in substantial
gainful activity throughout the period and was therefore not
disabled. In the alternative, the ALJ continued with the
sequential disability evaluation.
Step two: Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: major depressive disorder and generalized
Step three: These impairments did not meet
or equal the requirements of a listed
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):
Plaintiff could perform work at all exertional levels. He
could perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple
instructions. He could perform simple duties that could be
learned on-the-job in a short period and required little or
no judgment. He had an average ability to maintain attention,
concentration, persistence, and pace within employers'
customary tolerances. He could handle supervisor contact that
was minimal, i.e., not occurring regularly. This did
not preclude being in proximity to supervisors or simple,
superficial exchanges. Plaintiff could work in proximity to a
few coworkers but not in a cooperative or team effort. He
could not deal with the public as an essential element of the
work process, but incidental, superficial contact was not
precluded. Plaintiff required a predictable work environment
with few work setting changes.
Step four: Plaintiff had no past relevant
Step five: Because jobs exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have
performed, he was not disabled.
AR 599-606. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 585-86.
Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of Social
Security benefits only if the ALJ's decision is based on
legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). Each of an ALJ's findings must
be supported by substantial evidence. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998).
“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 evaluating evidence,
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 ALJ. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947,
954, 957 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to
more than one interpretation, the ALJ's interpretation
must be upheld if rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400
F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005). This Court “may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1111 (9th Cir. 2012).
received a subsidy of $750 per month in rent reduction in
exchange for “being an onsite contact person” at
the rental complex. AR 85, 229. He used money from his mother
to pay the balance of his rent, which was over $1300. AR 85.
The ALJ, however, found that Plaintiff received “free
rent” that exceeded the substantial gainful activity
level of $1000 per month. AR 599. The Commissioner concedes
that the ALJ erred at step one, and thus this Court must
review the ALJ's evaluation at later steps in the
disability evaluation process. Dkt. 18 at 6.