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Edward L. C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 12, 2019

EDWARD L. C., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to fully develop the record, in evaluating the medical evidence, in evaluating Plaintiff's testimony, in evaluating lay witness evidence, in assessing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), and in his determination of the step four finding. (Dkt. # 8.) As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1961, has the equivalent of a high school education, and has worked as a combat medic and a personnel specialist in the United States Army. AR at 40, 42, 44, 212. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in 2008. Id. at 178.

         On September 13, 2017, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of January 1, 2009. AR at 38, 164. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 104-06, 108-10, 114-15. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on July 31, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 18-26.

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his amended alleged onset date of January 1, 2009 through his date last insured of December 31, 2013.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, obesity, and degenerative joint disease of the bilateral shoulders (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff could perform light work with the following limitations: he could occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally crawl; he could have occasional exposure to vibration and to extreme cold temperatures; and he could occasionally reach overhead bilaterally.
Step four: Plaintiff was still capable of performing past relevant work through the date last insured.
Step five: Because Plaintiff was still capable of performing past relevant work, the ALJ did not address step five.

AR at 18-26.

         As the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. AR at 4-9. Plaintiff appealed the final decision of the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 8.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under 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.

         “Substantial 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. Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The ALJ Did Not Err in Failing to Fully ...


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