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Marie W. v. Saul

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

October 30, 2019

MARIE W., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          MARY ALICE THEILER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda, this matter is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1960.[2] She completed high school and training as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and a certified nursing assistant (CNA). (AR 40-41, 227.) She previously worked as an administrative clerk, LPN, CNA, patient transporter, and transcribing-machine operator. (AR 25.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB in September 2015, alleging disability beginning September 2, 2015. (AR 206.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. ALJ C. Howard Prinsloo held a hearing on March 6, 2018, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 33-74.) On July 2, 2018, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-27.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on February 21, 2019 (AR 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000). At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is gainfully employed. The ALJ noted plaintiff had worked after the alleged onset date and was currently working part-time, but the activity did not raise to the level of substantial gainful activity (SGA). Plaintiff therefore had not engaged in SGA since the application date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's anxiety disorder with a history of benzodiazepine abuse, affective disorder, and personality disorder severe. He found body dysmorphic disorder, cervical herniated discs, and a very recent fractured pelvis did not constitute severe impairments. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing.

         If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found plaintiff able to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but able to have only brief and superficial interaction with the public or co-workers and limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. With that RFC, plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work.

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to work that exists in significant levels in the national economy. With the VE's assistance, the ALJ found plaintiff able to perform other jobs, such as work as a housecleaner, conveyor feeder-offbearer, and laboratory equipment cleaner.

         This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal error.”) Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff avers error at step two and in relation to medical opinions, symptom and lay testimony, and other evidence. She requests remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision ...


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