United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MICHELLE L. PETERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks review of the denial of his applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred in finding that he did not meet a
listing at step three, in discounting his subjective
testimony and the lay testimony, in assessing the medical
opinion evidence, and in relying on the vocational expert
(“VE”) testimony at step five. (Dkt. # 11 at 2.)
As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's
final decision and REMANDS this case for further
was born in 1966, has an associate's degree, and
previously worked as a laborer, machinist, and line cook. AR
at 49-50, 307. At the time of the administrative hearing,
Plaintiff was working part-time as a line cook. Id.
October 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of July 1, 2007. AR at 270-82. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration,
and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 153-68,
171-86. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on September 28,
2017 (id. at 39-87), the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 16-30.
Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process,
Step one: Plaintiff worked since his application date, but
the work did not rise to the level of substantial gainful
Step two: Plaintiff's osteoarthritis, sciatica, obesity,
hypertension, insomnia, chronic pain syndrome, major
depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder are
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light
work with additional limitations: He cannot climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps or stairs. He can
occasionally reach overhead. He cannot have concentrated
exposure to hazards. He can perform simple, routine tasks. He
can have occasional superficial interaction with co-workers
and the general public, in places where the general public is
typically not present. He can occasionally adapt to changes
in the work setting or work processes.
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,
Plaintiff is not disabled.
AR at 16-30.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. AR at 1-7. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of
the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 13.)
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir.
2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be
deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the
ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited
sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a
whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of
the case.” Id.
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 determining credibility,
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 Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
The ALJ Did Not ...