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Sam B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 28, 2019

SAM B., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 2.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes Plaintiff has failed to show the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he found Plaintiff's ankle impairments did not meet or equal Listing 1.02A. Further, Plaintiff has not shown the ALJ erred in his consideration of the medical evidence, Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, or the vocational expert's testimony. Accordingly, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of March 1, 2007. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 14. A hearing was held before ALJ Eric S. Basse. See AR 46-93. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to March 1, 2008. See AR 15, 51-52. On January 22, 2018, the ALJ entered a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 15-36. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-5, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In the Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (1) consider whether Plaintiff met Listing 1.02A; (2) consider the medical opinion evidence; (3) evaluate the RFC and vocational expert's testimony; and (4) support the decision with the evidence of record. Dkt. 15.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's ankle impairments met Listing 1.02A at Step Three.

         At Step Three of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ considers whether one or more of the claimant's impairments meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Each Listing sets forth the “symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings” which must be established in order for a claimant's impairment to meet the Listing. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999). If a claimant meets or equals a Listing, the claimant is considered disabled without further inquiry. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d).

         The burden of proof is on the claimant to establish he meets or equals any of the impairments in the Listings. See Tacket, 180 F.3d at 1098. “A generalized assertion of functional problems, ” however, “is not enough to establish disability at step three.” Id. at 1100 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526). A mental or physical impairment “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508. It must be established by medical evidence “consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings.” Id.; see also Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 *2 (a step three determination must be made on basis of medical factors alone). An impairment meets a listed impairment “only when it manifests the specific findings described in the set of medical criteria for that listed impairment.” SSR 83-19, 1983 WL 31248 *2.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by failing to find Plaintiff's ankle impairments met or equaled Listing 1.02A. Dkt. 15, pp. 5-6. Listing 1.02A pertains to major disfunction of a joint involving one major peripheral weight-bearing joint resulting in an inability to ambulate effectively. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1§ 1.02A.

Inability to ambulate effectively means an extreme limitation of the ability to walk; i.e., an impairment(s) that interferes very seriously with the individual's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Ineffective ambulation is defined generally as having insufficient lower extremity functioning (see 1.00J) to permit independent ambulation without the ...

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