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Tina M. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 6, 2019

TINA M., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          HONORABLE RICHARD A. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tina M. seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by rejecting her testimony, two doctors' opinions, and four lay witness statements. Dkt. 10. 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).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 58 years old, has a 10th grade education, and has worked as a meter reader, meter technician, and janitor. Dkt. 7, Admin. Record (“AR”) 57, 62, 68, 157. On July 13, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of May 15, 2014. AR 62, 144-45. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 61-81. The ALJ conducted a hearing on July 6, 2017, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. AR 34- 60. On February 22, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 15-28.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Using the five-step disability evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 15, 2014, the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: Cervical degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or medically equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[1]
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”): Plaintiff can perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with additional limitations. She can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. She can occasionally crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants and hazards. She can occasionally push and pull with the left lower extremity, such as for the operation of foot pedals.
Step four: Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a meter reader. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the Plaintiff's RFC. Plaintiff is therefore not disabled.
Step five: The ALJ did not reach step five.

         AR 15-28. 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). Each of an ALJ's findings must be supported by substantial evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). “Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). 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, 957 (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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