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Joann D. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 26, 2019

JOANN D., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred at step two, in assessing her subjective statements, and in crafting the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment. (Dkt. # 11 at 3.) Plaintiff also argues that new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council undermines the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 4-6.) As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1968, has an associate's degree, and has worked as a newspaper circulation manager, customer service representative, and retail store manager. AR at 836, 1112, 1133-36. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in April 2015. Id. at 1112.

         In May 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of April 17, 2015. AR at 1090-96. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. at 938-40, 947-51, 956-57. After the ALJ conducted hearings in November 2016 and August 2017 (id. at 822-901), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 16-29.

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

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, April 17, 2015.
Step two: Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status-post laminectomy with radiculopathy, cervical spine degenerative joint disorder, fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, obesity, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and somatoform disorder are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
RFC: Plaintiff can perform light work with additional limitations: she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can frequently balance, crouch, kneel, stoop, and crawl. She can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. She is limited to simple, routine tasks (those requiring no greater than reasoning level 2). She can have no public contact and occasional superficial contact with coworkers.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, ...

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