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Scott H. v. Saul

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

January 7, 2020

SCOTT H., 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, 1970.[1] He has a GED, and previously worked as a granite and marble fabricator, installer, and cutter. (AR 42, 55-58.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in April 2013. (AR 134-40.) That application was denied and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR 85-87, 89-90, 93-94.)

         On February 17, 2015, ALJ Jo Hoenninger held a hearing in Portland, Oregon, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 36-62.) On March 26, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled before his date last insured (DLI), June 30, 2008. (AR 20-30.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 26, 2016 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court, which granted the parties' stipulation to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for further proceedings. (AR 518-22.) The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to consider certain evidence and take other action as warranted. (AR 525-28.)

         The ALJ held a second hearing on June 20, 2018, in Portland, Oregon. (AR 456-86.) The ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled before the DLI, in a decision issued October 24, 2018. (AR 435-48.) Plaintiff now requests judicial review of this final decision of the Commissioner.

         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 had worked between the alleged onset date and the DLI, but that this work did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity. (AR 438.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's lumbar degenerative disc disease status post laminectomy with radiculitis and lumbago was a severe impairment. (AR 438-40.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 440.)

         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 walk one half hour at one time, and up to six hours total in an eight-hour workday. He could sit for one half hour at a time and up to six hours total in an eight-hour workday. He could occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should have avoided concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and hazards, such as unprotected heights and exposed moving mechanical parts. (AR 440.) With that assessment, the ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 446.)

         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 the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found that through the DLI, Plaintiff was capable of ...


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