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Jennifer G. v. Saul

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

December 26, 2019

JENNIFER G., 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 her 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 Appeals Council's decision, 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, 1973.[1] She has one year of college education, and has worked as a childcare provider, security equipment installer, airport security screening officer, laundromat manager, and patient registration representative. (AR 63, 69-74, 334-38.)

         Plaintiff applied for SSI in October 2013 and DIB in April 2014. (AR 17, 122, 273-79.) Those applications were denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 145-48, 150-52, 157-60.)

         On December 14, 2016; April 12, 2017; and September 25, 2017; ALJ Marilyn Mauer held hearings, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 39-121.) On October 24, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-32.) Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, and entered a decision on February 14, 2019, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 1-8.) Plaintiff appealed this decision of the Commissioner to this Court.[2]

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner'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 Commissioner found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. (AR 5, 20.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The Commissioner found severe Plaintiff's asthma, obesity, bilateral thumb joint osteoarthritis, history of colitis, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (AR 5, 20-21.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The Commissioner found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 5, 21-22.)

         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 Commissioner found Plaintiff capable of performing medium work with additional limitations: she can perform work without exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and large moving equipment. She can work in a setting with no more than occasional exposure to inhaled irritants. She can understand, remember, and apply information consistent with the completion of tasks that require a GED reasoning level of 2 or less in a setting with no public contact and occasional co-worker contact. She requires access to a restroom, so she should not work in outdoor settings. (AR 5, 22-23.) With that assessment, the Commissioner found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 6, 29.)

         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 citation to VE testimony, the Commissioner found Plaintiff capable of transitioning to other representative occupations, such as small products assembler, agricultural sorter, and office helper. (AR 6, 30-31.)

         This Court's review of the Commissioner'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 Commissioner erred in (1) discounting her subjective symptom testimony; and (2) assessing certain medical evidence and opinions. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision ...


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