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Robert L. B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 5, 2019

ROBERT L. B., JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in evaluating the medical opinion evidence, evaluating Plaintiff's testimony, and in making step five findings. (Dkt. # 11.) As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1977, has a twelfth-grade education, has attended community college, and has worked as a dish washer and as a general laborer. AR at 36, 189, 199, 215. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in 2005. Id. at 198.

         On July 14, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of January 1, 2012. AR at 162-170, 215. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 58, 67. 90. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on October 4, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 15-24, 31-57.

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 29, 2015, the application date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); and polysubstance abuse, in remission (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional superficial contact with the general public. Additionally, the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and he must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights.
Step four: Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, Plaintiff is not disabled.

AR at 15-24.

         As the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. AR at 1-4. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 11.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when 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 (9th Cir. 2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited ...


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