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Kavic R. v. Saul

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

December 4, 2019

KAVIC 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 his appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and 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, 1980.[1] He has a master's degree in mechanical engineering, and has worked as an engineer, high school teacher, engineering consultant, graduate school research assistant, and motel manager. (AR 85-93, 306.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in August 2015. (AR 282-89.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 170-77, 196-227.)

         On July 20, 2017, ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 46-102.) On March 21, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 20-39.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 6, 2019 (AR 1-7), 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 June 15, 2015, the alleged onset date. (AR 23.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found severe Plaintiff's bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, cannabis use disorder, limb length discrepancy, and history of clubfoot deformity. (AR 23-25.) 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 25-27.)

         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 capable of performing medium work, with additional limitations: he can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, and cannot climb or crawl. He can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions. He can do work that needs little or no judgment and can perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period. He requires a work environment with minimal supervisor contact, defined to mean “contact that does not occur regularly.” (AR 27.) It does not preclude simple and superficial exchanges, nor does it preclude being in proximity to the supervisor. He can work in proximity to co-workers, but not in a cooperative or team effort. He requires a work environment that has no more than superficial interactions with co-workers. He requires a work environment that is predictable and with few work setting changes. He requires a work environment with public contact. (AR 27.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 36-37.)

         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 representative occupations such as kitchen helper, laundry worker, and industrial cleaner. (AR 37-38.)

         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 regarding his ability to persist, and (2) discounting two medical opinions. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's ...


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