United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks review of the denial of his applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred in discounting his subjective
testimony, assessing the medical evidence, and discounting
the lay evidence. (Dkt. # 9 at 2.) As discussed below, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and
DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
was born in 1957, has a college degree, and has worked as an
electronic technician, design engineer, software tester,
fast-food cashier, and window washer. AR at 45-49. At the
time of the most recent administrative hearing, Plaintiff was
working as an in-home caregiver, but the ALJ found that this
work did not meet the threshold of substantial gainful
employment. Id. at 742-43.
October 2012, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of October 1, 2009. AR at 290-306.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing.
Id. at 215-18, 224-30, 233-38. After the ALJ
conducted a hearing on October 22, 2014 (id. at
77-109), the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled. Id. at 13-27.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR
at 1-6), and Plaintiff requested judicial review. The U.S.
District Court for the Western District of Washington
reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for
further administrative proceedings. Id. at 907-12.
Given that Plaintiff had been found disabled as of December
25, 2014, based on a subsequent benefits application, the
Appeals Council instructed the ALJ on remand to consider
whether Plaintiff was disabled in the period before December
25, 2014, unless the ALJ found reason to reopen the award of
benefits. Id. at 925-26.
different ALJ held an administrative hearing on November 16,
2017, and he ordered further development of the record,
specifically related to Plaintiff's vocational history.
AR at 767-814. That ALJ subsequently left the agency, and the
case was transferred to a different ALJ, who held another
hearing on October 2, 2018. Id. at 815-71.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ issued a
Step one: Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the adjudicated period (October 9, 2009,
through December 24, 2014).
Step two: During the adjudicated period, Plaintiff's
hepatitis C, status post interferon treatment, with fatigue,
insomnia, and muscle fasciculations; hypothyroidism; mild
peripheral neuropathy; and asthma were severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments did not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment during the adjudicated
Residual Functional Capacity: During the adjudicated period,
Plaintiff could perform light work with additional
limitations: he could lift/carry 25 pounds occasionally and
25 pounds frequently in an eight-hour workday. He could stand
and/or walk for four hours and sit for eight hours in an
eight-hour workday. He had to avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme cold and pulmonary irritants.
Step four: Plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a
software engineer, electronics technician, and electronics
assembler, and is therefore not disabled.
AR at 739-55. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the
Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 1.)
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.
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, ...