United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MICHELLE L. PETERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks review of the denial of her applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred by rejecting her testimony and her
treating medical sources' opinions. (Dkt. #10 at 1.) As
discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's
final decision and REMANDS the matter for an award of
benefits under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
was born in 1961, has at least a high school education, and
has worked as a credit clerk, cashier checker, sales clerk,
truck driver, flagger, and security supervisor. AR at 43-44,
30, 74-75. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in August
2015. Id. at 45.
November 10, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of August 6, 2015. AR at 91. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration,
and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 89, 90,
139, 140, 168-69. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on
October 12, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled. Id. at 39-88, 15-31.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the August 6, 2015, alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
fibromyalgia, headaches, degenerative changes of the cervical
and lumbar spine, mild osteoarthritis of the hands, sleep
apnea, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can lift/carry 10
pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, stand
and/or walk 6 hours per day, and sit 6 hours per day. She
must alternate sitting and standing briefly every hour. She
can frequently handle, finger, and reach. She can frequently
climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. She can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold
or heat, vibration, pulmonary irritants, and hazards.
Step four: Plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a
credit clerk, and thus is not disabled.
Step five: The ALJ did not reach step five.
AR at 17-31.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. AR at 1-3. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of
the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 4.)
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.
is no dispute that Plaintiff suffers from fibromyalgia. As
the Ninth Circuit has recognized, fibromyalgia is
“unusual, ” and difficult to analyze in Social
Security disability cases, because objective clinical
findings are typically normal and the “condition is
diagnosed ‘entirely on the basis of the patients'
reports of pain and other symptoms.'” Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 656 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting
Benecke v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 590 (9th Cir.
2004)). Typical symptoms include chronic pain throughout the
body. Id. There is also no dispute that Plaintiff
suffers from hand osteoarthritis. The ALJ restricted
Plaintiff to handling and fingering “frequently,
” i.e., up to two-thirds of the day. AR at 21.
challenges the ALJ's rejection of her testimony and two
medical opinions regarding her ability to use her hands. If
Plaintiff were limited to less than frequent handling and
fingering, vocational expert testimony established that
Plaintiff would be unable to perform past relevant work as a
credit clerk. AR at 79. The vocational expert further
testified that no other jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy would be available.
Id. at 80; se ...