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Guy M. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 12, 2019

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

          ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND REMANDING THE CASE FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of his applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by rejecting his testimony, his treating doctor's opinions, and his wife's testimony. Dkt. 9. As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the case for further administrative proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 55 years old, has a high school education, and has worked as a school bus driver and stores laborer. Dkt. 7, Admin. Record (AR) 955. Plaintiff applied for benefits in March 2014, and alleges disability as of January 1, 2014. AR 227, 942. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, on reconsideration, and by a February 2016 ALJ decision. AR 225, 226, 247, 248, 143-52. On appeal to this court, based on the parties' stipulation, the court remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. AR 1097-99. On remand, after the ALJ conducted a hearing in June 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 1016, 942-57.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

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

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the January 2014 alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; large intestine cancer, status-post chemotherapy; and peripheral neuropathy.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work, standing and/or walking for 4 hours per day. He cannot crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and kneel. He must avoid concentrated cold, vibration, and hazards. He cannot drive as part of normal job duties. He must ambulate with a cane, with the other hand free to use. He requires an option to alternate sitting and standing after 30 to 60 minutes, for 3 to 5 minutes while remaining on task.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, he is not disabled.

AR 945-57.[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). “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). 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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