United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
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).
After considering and reviewing the record, the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide germane reasons for failing to credit fully opinions from one of plaintiff's treatment providers and he also failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons for failing to credit fully an opinion from the state agency medical consultants, whose opinion he gave significant weight and relied on in determining plaintiff's RFC.
Therefore this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further consideration.
Plaintiff, KAREN DENISE JACKS, was born in 1966 and was 43 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of October 23, 2009 ( see Tr. 11, 30, 152-55). Plaintiff obtained her GED and attended college classes for 5 or 6 years, but does not have a degree (Tr. 39-40).
Plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of "bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance addiction disorder, and borderline personality disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c))" (Tr. 13).
At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in a house with her ex mother-inlaw and brother-in-law (Tr. 32).
Before filing the Social Security applications that are the subject of this appeal, plaintiff filed a previous application for disability benefits and received an unfavorable decision by a different Administrative Law Judge, which was issued on September 21, 2009 ( see Tr. 11, 71-86).
On October 23, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act ( see Tr. 152-55). The application was denied initially and following reconsideration (Tr. 92-99, 105-14). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Robert P. Kingsley ("the ALJ") on October 25, 2011 ( see Tr. 26-70). On February 21, 2010, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act ( see Tr. 8-25).
On May 17, 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. 1-5). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's written decision in June, 2013 ( see ECF Nos. 1, 3). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter ("Tr.") on August 27, 2013 ( see ECF Nos. 10, 11).
In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether or not the ALJ improperly rejected the findings of plaintiff's therapist and improperly adopted the findings of the nonexamining State agency physicians; (2) Whether or not the ALJ provided specific and valid reasons to reject the lay witness testimony; and (3) Whether or not the ALJ addressed all of the limitations from all of plaintiff's impairments when assessing the residual functional capacity (RCF) and whether or not the step five findings are supported by law and fact ( see ECF No. 13, p. 1).
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 ...