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Smith v. Colvin

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

April 29, 2014

BRIAN KEITH SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KAREN L. STROMBOM, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule MJR 4(a)(4) and as authorized by Mathews, Secretary of H.E.W. v. Weber , 423 U.S. 261 (1976). After reviewing the parties' briefs and the remaining record, the undersigned submits the following Report and Recommendation for the Court's review, recommending that for the reasons set forth below, defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed and this matter should be remanded for further administrative proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 1, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI benefits, alleging in both applications that he became disabled beginning October 22, 2008. See ECF #10, Administrative Record ("AR") 14. Both applications were denied upon initial administrative review on March 23, 2011 and on reconsideration on May 3, 2011. See id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on June 26, 2012, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. See AR 618-661.

In a decision dated July 23, 2012, the ALJ determined plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 14-27. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on May 23, 2013, making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). See AR 6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. On July 16, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. See ECF #1. The administrative record was filed with the Court on September 23, 2013. See ECF #10. The parties have completed their briefing, and thus this matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

Plaintiff argues defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings, because the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of Mary Lemberg, M.D., that plaintiff:

(1) may not have the ability to perform simple and repetitive tasks;
(2) may have difficulty accepting instructions from supervisors, and would have difficulty interacting with co-workers and the public;
(3) may be limited in his ability to perform work activities on a consistent basis or maintain regular attendance in the workplace;
(4) could not complete a normal workday or workweek without problematic interruption from his psychiatric conditions; and
(5) would be anticipated to have great difficulty dealing with the usual stress encountered in a competitive work environment.

Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ's improper rejection of Dr. Lemberg's opinions resulted in an incorrect assessment of his residual functional capacity ("RFC"). For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned agrees the ALJ erred in rejecting Dr. Lemberg's opinions that plaintiff may have difficulty accepting instructions from supervisors and may be limited in his ability to perform work activities on a consistent basis or maintain regular attendance in the workplace, and thus also erred in both assessing his RFC and finding him to be not disabled. Accordingly, the undersigned agrees as well with plaintiff that defendant's decision should be reversed and that this matter should be remanded for further administrative proceedings.

DISCUSSION

The determination of the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court, if the "proper legal standards" have been applied by the Commissioner, and the "substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports" that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler , 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Batson v. Commissioner of Social Security Admin. , 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan , 772 F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) ("A decision supported by substantial evidence will, nevertheless, be set aside if the proper legal standards were not ...


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