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Christina L. v. Saul

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

November 18, 2019

CHRISTINA L., 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 REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1970.[1] She has a high school education (AR 23, 35-36) and previously worked as a waitress, bartender, gambling dealer, and medical assistant (AR 23).

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB in September 2015, alleging disability beginning July 9, 2014. (AR 89.) The application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration.

         On November 2, 2017, ALJ Wayne N. Araki held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 31-73.) On March 29, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from July 9, 2014, through the date of the decision. (AR 15-25.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 27, 2018 (AR 1-3), 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 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 plaintiff's degenerative disc disease, joint dysfunction, sprains and strains and muscle/soft tissue disorder severe. 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.

         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 sedentary work except she could lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally; stand and walk for 10 to 15 minute intervals up to two hours total per day; sit for eight hours per day total; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; occasionally reach overhead; and frequently finger and handle. She could have occasional exposure to extreme cold or vibrations; could not work at exposed heights or operating heavy equipment; and otherwise could have occasional exposure to hazards. 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 a VE, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as a touch up screener, document preparer, and table worker.

         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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