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Sterling L. v. Saul

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

November 6, 2019

STERLING L., 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 his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner partially denied Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda of record, this matter is AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1973.[2] He has a tenth-grade education, and was previously employed as a construction worker and pizza cook. (AR 35, 173, 848, 1084, 2484.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in September 2011, alleging disability as of November 1, 2008.[3](AR 150-58.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 81-88, 92-98.) In June 2012, ALJ M.J. Adams held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 31-60.) On, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-26.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 12, 2014 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court, which reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (AR 898-912.) The Appeals Council effectuated the remand, and consolidated the claim with a subsequent SSI application. (AR 918-19.) ALJ Adams held another hearing in September 2015 (AR 843-73), and on December 18, 2015, issued a decision finding Plaintiff disabled as of July 1, 2015, but not disabled before. (AR 816-34.)

         Plaintiff appealed the Commissioner's decision to this Court, which reversed the decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (AR 2504-15.) ALJ Stephanie Martz (hereinafter referred to as “the ALJ”) held a hearing in July 2018 (AR 2477-92), and in October 2018 entered a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled before July 1, 2015. (AR 2445-67.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.

         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 found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between the alleged onset date and the established disability onset date. (AR 2448.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that between the alleged onset date and the disability onset date, Plaintiff's right leg deep vein thrombosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, affective disorder, anxiety disorder vs. posttraumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, and substance use disorder were severe. (Id.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment between the alleged onset date and the disability onset date. (AR 2448-50.)

         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 has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found that between the alleged onset date and the disability onset date, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with additional limitations: he could perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. He could do work that needed little or no judgment, and he could perform simple duties that could be learned on the job in less than 30 days. He could respond appropriately to supervision, but could not have worked in close coordination with co-workers or where teamwork was required. He could deal with occasional changes in the work environment that required no interaction with the general public. (AR 2450.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work between the alleged onset date and the disability onset date. (AR 2465.)

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform 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 assistance of the VE, the ALJ found that from the alleged onset date to the disability onset date, Plaintiff was capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, such as garment folder, electrical accessories assembler, and small products assembler II. (AR 2465-67.)

         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). 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 ...


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