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Dean v. Colvin

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

April 7, 2014

RACHEL LYNN DEAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, 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. 12, 15, 16).

After considering and reviewing the record, the Court finds that the ALJ failed to evaluate properly the medical evidence. Importantly, the ALJ neglected to include significant and probative evidence from his review of doctors' mental status examinations. Plaintiff's limitations resulting from mental impairments require further evaluation, especially her limitations with respect to concentration, persistence and pace.

Therefore, this matter shall be reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, RACHEL LYNN DEAN, was born in 1974 and was 32 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of July 29, 2007 ( see Tr. 132, 135). Plaintiff graduated from high school and started college but quit when she was divorced (Tr. 41). She worked as a real estate assistant and obtained her real estate license. She was terminated from that job because she was unable to work 40 hours a week (Tr. 40-42). Plaintiff's last job was part-time at a smoothie bar, but she was fired for missing too much work (Tr. 39).

Plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of "mild degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine and history of carpal tunnel syndrome, status post surgery (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))" (Tr. 15).

At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her two children.

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 ( see Tr. 132-34, 135-40). The applications were denied initially and following reconsideration (Tr. 66, 67). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Timothy Mangrum ("the ALJ") on August 4, 2011 ( see Tr. 32-65). On August 26, 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. 10-30).

On March 12, 2013, 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 May, 2013 ( see ECF Nos. 1, 3). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter ("Tr.") on July 30, 2013 ( see ECF Nos. 9, 10).

In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether or not the ALJ erred by finding that the plaintiff's mental impairments are "nonsevere" and by failing to properly assess and weigh the opinions of an examining psychologist, examining psychiatrist and two state agency psychological consultants; (2) Whether or not the ALJ erred in assessing the plaintiff's credibility; and (3) Whether or not the ALJ erred in assessing the opinions of the examining and treating physicians and thus erred in assessing the plaintiff's physical RFC ( see ECF No. 12, pp. 1-2).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Plaintiff bears the burden of proving disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"); although the burden shifts to the Commissioner on the fifth and final step of the sequential disability evaluation process. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140, 146 n. 5 (1987). The Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity" due to a physical or mental impairment "which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted, or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled pursuant to the Act only if claimant's impairment(s) are of such severity that claimant is unable to do previous work, and cannot, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if 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 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) ( citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)). "Substantial 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.'" Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) ( quoting Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 325-26 (9th Cir. 1989)). Regarding the question of whether or not substantial evidence supports the findings by the ALJ, the Court should "review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.'" Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) ( citing Magallanes, supra, 881 F.2d at 750).

In addition, the Court must independently determine whether or not "the Commissioner's decision is (1) free of legal error and (2) is supported by substantial evidence.'" See Bruce v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 2006) ( citing Moore v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 278 F.3d 920, 924 (9th Cir. 2002) (collecting cases)); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) ( citing Stone v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 530, 532 (9th Cir. 1985)). According to the Ninth Circuit, "[l]ong-standing principles of administrative law require us to review the ALJ's decision based on the reasoning and actual findings offered by the ALJ - not post hoc rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator may have been thinking." Bray v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1225-26 (9th Cir. 2009) ( citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947) (other citation omitted)); see also Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) ("we may not uphold an agency's decision on a ground not actually relied on by the agency") ( citing Chenery Corp, supra, 332 U.S. at 196). In the context of social security appeals, ...


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