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Chappell v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 9, 2014

LEAH CHAPPELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

J. RICHARD CREATURA, Magistrate Judge.

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 ( see also Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S. Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, ECF No. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, ECF No. 6). This matter has been fully briefed ( see ECF Nos. 13, 14, 15).

Plaintiff has "long term chronic mental health difficulties" (Tr. 368), caused in large part by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse during her formative years, and continuing into her adult life. The ALJ choose to accept the conclusions of a nonexamining state psychologist who reviewed some, but not all, of the mental health care records and concluded that plaintiff was capable of some form of work. The reviewing state psychologist did not have available to her subsequent testing and psychological evaluations that further supported a different conclusion, including a report by an examining psychologist, who conducted extensive psychological testing and concluded that plaintiff was "[c]learly disabled from sustained gainful employment" (Tr. 368).

For these reasons, and others set forth below, this matter is reversed and remanded for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, LEAH CHAPPELL, was born in 1983 and was 24 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of September 1, 2008 ( see Tr. 21, 38, 133, 140).

Plaintiff testified:

I grew up on Harstene Island before it was really populated. I went to a private school, which was a mobile home in somebody's yard. I was severely - my mother was, I think, a religious fanatic. I don't know the right word for it."

(Tr. 45-46).

Without going in to great detail, the medical records reveal an upbringing where plaintiff was cloistered as a child, not allowed to go into the public regularly, and suffered periods of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse ( see Tr. 316-17, 333, 345, 355). She had been "struggling with depression since she was very young" (Tr.345). Her problems included an eating disorder, cutting herself for many years, and hospitalization for mental health issues ( id. ). She described often waking up in the middle of night anxious and suffering from frightening hallucinations, and noted that she "grew up in a closet hiding; I don't have a current closet, so I feel like I sleep less" (Tr. 364).

Things did not improve when she became an adult. She was a victim of sexual crimes and found herself in an abusive relationship. Among other things,

She was choked by her former partner to unconsciousness once while bathing her girls, then left for dead, neighbor saw the door open and found her, called the police. She's moving in 2 weeks and has a no contact order.

( see Tr. 257).

Plaintiff has received medication for depression and anxiety ( see Tr. 57-8, 260). Among her symptoms, plaintiff has thoughts racing at night, difficulty sleeping (Tr. 260), outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, feeling immense dread and of not wanting to go out and go places. She has received mental health counseling on several occasions (Tr. 320-30, 399).

Plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of "posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder/anxiety, personality disorder, and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))" (Tr. 23).

Although plaintiff never completed high school, she has her GED (Tr. 41) and has previously worked as a cashier in a gas station, a day care helper, and a home health aide (Tr. 42-44).

At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her two daughters (Tr. 41).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance ("DIB") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act in May, 2009 ( see Tr. 21, 133-143). The applications were denied initially and following reconsideration (Tr. 63-66). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Martz ("the ALJ") on June 21, 2011 ( see Tr. 35-62). On June 29, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act ( see Tr. 18-34).

On September 10, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the written decision by the ALJ the final agency decision subject to judicial review (Tr. 1-6). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's written decision in October, 2012 ( see ECF Nos. 1, 3). Defendant filed the sealed ...


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