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Vicki M. v. Saul

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

November 6, 2019

VICKI M., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          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 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.


         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1967.[2] She completed high school and some college (AR 61, 289) and has no past relevant work (AR 74, 271).

         Plaintiff protectively filed an SSI application on September 25, 2014, alleging disability beginning April 6, 2010. (AR 262.)[3] The application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On September 11, 2017, ALJ Ilene Sloan held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 55-81; see also AR 34-54 (earlier attempts at hearings postponed).) On November 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled as of the September 2014 application date. (AR 15-26.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on December 27, 2018 (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.


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


         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 since the alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe: major depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); dependent personality disorder; avoidant personality disorder; unspecified anxiety disorder; borderline personality disorder; history of histrionic personality disorder; and cannabis dependence disorder. He found other diagnoses/conditions non-severe, including amphetamine use disorder, seizure disorder, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome with resulting stroke, renal insufficiencies, asthma, somatization disorder, and rule-out malingering. 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 the criteria of 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 has 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 with the following non-exertional limitations: understand, remember, and carry out short and simple instructions; occasional and superficial contact with the general public, co-workers, and supervisors; and adapt to routine changes in the workplace setting. Plaintiff had no past relevant work to consider at step four.

         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 assistance of the VE, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as a cleaner, hospital housekeeper, and hand packager.

         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 ...

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