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Michael A. v. Saul

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

December 26, 2019

MICHAEL A., 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 application for 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 REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1959.[1] He has a high school diploma, and has worked as a sales representative for motor vehicles and supplies and a sales representative for hardware supplies. (AR 51, 197.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in November 2013. (AR 160-65.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 91-97, 99-105.)

         On March 19, 2015, ALJ Virginia Robinson held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 31-67.) On December 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-26.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 22, 2017 (AR 1-6), and Plaintiff sought judicial review. On January 18, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (AR 514-27.)

         On remand, the ALJ held a hearing on February 27, 2019 (AR 476-87), and subsequently issued a decision again finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 459-69.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.

         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 between his alleged onset date and his date last insured (DLI). (AR 461-63.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease with kyphosis was a severe impairment. (AR 461-63.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 464.)

         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 that through the DLI, Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with additional limitations: he could stand and/or walk for approximately six hours and sit for approximately six hours per eight-hour workday with normal breaks. He could occasionally climb ramps or stairs. He could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could frequently balance, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He needed to avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration and workplace hazards, such as dangerous moving machinery or working at unprotected heights. (AR 464.) With that assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as sales representative and sales representative for hardware supplies as generally and actually performed.[2] (AR 468-69.)

         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. Because the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. (AR 468-69.)

         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 ...


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