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Michael N. v. Saul

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

November 18, 2019

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


          Mary Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff proceeds through counsel in his 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, 1970.[2] He has a GED, and has worked as a transit driver, construction framer, hardware store stocker, and construction supply driver. (AR 77, 294.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in September 2015. (AR 271-76.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 155-63, 165-76.)

         On August 22, 2017, and December 7, 2017, ALJ Rebecca L. Jones held hearings, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 44-119.) On December 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 22-35.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 30, 2018 (AR 1-6), 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 September 16, 2015, the application date. (AR 24.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's synovitis of the left ankle with degenerative joint disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (AR 24-26.) 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. (AR 26-27.)

         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 can lift/carry up to 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. He can stand/walk up to two hours in an eight hour workday, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. He cannot operative foot controls on the left side. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as perform all other postural activities. He can frequently handle, finger, and feel bilaterally. He cannot be exposed to extreme cold. He can perform simple, routine tasks with no interaction with the general public. (AR 27.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 33-34.)

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform 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 transitioning to other representative occupations, including surveillance systems monitor, call out operator, and lampshade assembler. (AR 34-35.)

         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). 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 there is more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in (1) discounting his subjective symptom testimony, (2) discounting Plaintiff's partner's statement, (3) assessing the medical evidence, and (4) entering findings at step five.[3] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         Subjective ...

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