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Jones v. Colvin

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

December 12, 2014

JANINE CLAIR JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
AROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

J. RICHARD CREATURA, Magistrate Judge.

This matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 4(a)(4), and as authorized by Mathews, Secretary of H.E.W. v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 271-72 (1976). This matter has been fully briefed ( see Dkt. Nos. 18, 19, 20).

After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ failed to evaluate the medical evidence properly by failing to indicate why an opinion from an examining doctor was not included into plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ also failed to provide legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record for failing to credit opinions from another examining doctor regarding plaintiff's social limitations. Because these errors are not harmless, this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, JANINE CLAIR JONES, was born in 1981 and was 28 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of March 1, 2010 ( see AR. 37, 59, 201-02, 203-09). Plaintiff completed high school and attended college but does not have a degree (AR. 61). Plaintiff has work experience as a barista and nuts and seeds roaster, a healthcare patient account representative, a stocker, a cashier, a receptionist and as a childcare assistant in a daycare (AR. 237-48). Plaintiff's last job as a barista ended when she was not able to get to work on time (AR. 69).

According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of "major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))" (AR. 39).

In February, 2011, plaintiff was single and living in an apartment in Olympia with seven other people (AR. 339, 420).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") 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 were denied initially and following reconsideration ( see AR. 77-83, 84-90, 93-100, 101-08). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Gary Elliott ("the ALJ") on January 30, 2013 ( see AR. 56-74). On February 7, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act ( see AR. 34-51).

On March 21, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the written decision by the ALJ the final agency decision subject to judicial review (AR. 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, 2014 ( see Dkt. Nos. 1, 3). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter ("AR.") on August 18, 2014 ( see Dkt. Nos. 13, 14).

Defendant summarizes the issues raised by plaintiff in her opening brief as follows: (1) Whether or not the ALJ gave legally adequate reasons for finding plaintiff not entirely credible; (2) Whether or not the ALJ properly considered the opinions of Richard Coder, Ph.D., Brett Trowbridge, Ph.D. and Terilee Wingate, Ph.D.; (3) Whether or not the ALJ harmfully erred in failing to adequately discuss plaintiff's obesity; and (4) Whether or not the ALJ presented a valid RFC assessment to the vocational expert ( see Dkt. No. 19, pp. 1-2).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 ...


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