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Christyn R. v. Saul

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

November 14, 2019

CHRISTYN R., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER RE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL

          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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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, 1975.[1] She has college and graduate degrees and previously worked as a music teacher. (AR 38.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB on March 2, 2015, alleging disability beginning September 26, 2014. (AR 236.) The application was denied initially and on reconsideration.

         On May 24, 2017, ALJ Timothy Mangrum held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 29-60.) He held a supplemental hearing, and took testimony from plaintiff and a VE, on October 12, 2017. (AR 61-85.) On February 16, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-23.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on February 20, 2019 (AR 1), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         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 that, while plaintiff had an unsuccessful work attempt from September to December 2016, she 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 plaintiff's affective disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obesity, and lumbar degenerative disc disease severe. 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 listed impairment.

         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 light work, with the ability to understand detailed and non-detailed instructions, have incidental contact with the public (i.e., be in the general vicinity of the public, but not working closely), have occasional contact with co-workers, and would be off-task and therefore non-productive and/or working at a slower pace up to seven percent of the workday. With that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work.

         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 an office cleaner, plastic products packager, and clerical assistant.

         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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