United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR AN AWARD OF
Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.
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).
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.
Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process,
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.
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
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.
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).
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. ...