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Kelly B. v. Saul

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

January 10, 2020

KELLY B., 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 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 AFFIRMED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1961.[1] She obtained a GED and previously worked as an administrative assistant and senior secretary. (AR 27, 51.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed a DIB application in May 2016, alleging disability beginning June 6, 2015. (AR 192.) The application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration.

         On March 26, 2018, ALJ Rebecca Jones held a hearing, taking testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 35-86.) Plaintiff amended her onset date to March 15, 2016. On May 25, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-29.)

         Plaintiff timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on March 19, 2019 (AR 1), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.

         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 since the amended alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's major depressive disorder vs. bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder severe. Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment.

         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 can perform past relevant work. The ALJ found plaintiff able to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: simple, routine, repetitive tasks in an environment free of fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple work-related decisions, and few, if any, workplace changes; work that does not require contact with the public; occasional superficial contact with co-workers and occasional contact with supervisors after initial training period. With that RFC, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work.

         If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or has no 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 plaintiff capable of performing other jobs, such as work as an office helper, mailroom clerk, and laundry sorter.

         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). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal error.”) 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 ...


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