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Patrice A. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 30, 2019

PATRICE A., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits, and requests remand for benefits or further proceedings. Plaintiff contends the ALJ constructively reopened Plaintiff's prior application, erred in rejecting Plaintiff's symptom testimony, and erred in evaluating four medical opinions. Dkt. 13. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 56 years old, has at least a high school education, and has worked as a contract specialist. Dkt. 11, Admin. Record (“AR”) 59, 88. Plaintiff applied for benefits on January 26, 2016, alleging disability as of December 13, 2013. AR 77, 169-73. Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review. AR 77-90. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on October 2, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. AR 15-24.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 13, 2013, through her date last insured of March 31, 2017.
Step two: Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and spinal degenerative disc disease.
Step three: These impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”): Through the date last insured, Plaintiff could perform medium work, with additional limitations. She could engage in unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. She could not have contact with the public. She was capable of working in proximity to, but not in coordination with, coworkers. She could have occasional contact with supervisors. She would be off-task 10 percent of the time, but could still meet minimum production requirements of the job.
Step four: Through the date last insured, Plaintiff could not perform past relevant work.
Step five: Through the date last insured, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, so Plaintiff was not disabled.

AR 15-24. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-3.

         III. 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). 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 (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. ...


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