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Rose P. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 23, 2019

ROSE P., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR AN AWARD OF BENEFITS

          Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by rejecting her testimony and her doctor's opinions, and contends the ALJ was not constitutionally appointed. Dkt. 14. As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for an award of benefits under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 52 years old, has a high school education, and has worked as a receptionist, floor attendant, and case aide. Dkt. 9, Admin. Record (AR) 98, 40, 23. Plaintiff applied for benefits in March 2016. AR 99. She alleges disability as of February 20, 2016, when she broke her ankle. AR 14, 61. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 117-20. After the ALJ conducted a hearing in July 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 32, 14-25.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, status post left ankle fracture and surgery, and lumbar spine degenerative disc disease.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform sedentary work. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and perform all other postural activities. She can occasionally use foot controls with the left lower extremity. She can have occasional exposure to vibration and extreme cold.
Step four: Plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a receptionist, and is therefore not disabled.
Step five: The ALJ did not reach step five.

AR 16-25. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1.

         DISCUSSION

         This 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).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         In an April 2016 Function Report, Plaintiff wrote that she could not sit or stand for more than ten minutes at a time. AR 312. At the July 2017 hearing, Plaintiff testified that she must elevate her ankle above waist level for three to six hours a day. AR 64. She cannot walk unassisted. AR 81. She uses a walker and cane at home, and a wheelchair when she goes out. AR 74-75. She can stand for five minutes, or ten minutes with a walker. AR 75, 79. ...


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