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Timmons v. Colvin

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

March 3, 2015

GAIL TIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Noted for March 20, 2015 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 her application for disability insurance 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 be reversed and this matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 21, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of November 20, 2010. See Dkt. 10, Administrative Record ("AR") 19. That application was denied upon initial administrative review on July 11, 2011, and on reconsideration on September 23, 2011. See id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on October 3, 2012, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. See AR 34-72.

In a decision dated February 15, 2013, the ALJ determined plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 19-29. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on April 22, 2014, making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). See AR 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On June 18, 2014, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. See Dkt.

3. The administrative record was filed with the Court on August 25, 2014. See Dkt. 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: (1) in failing to accommodate all of the limitations Raymond West, M.D., and Guthrie Turner, M.D., found in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity or providing sufficient reasons for rejecting them; (2) in failing to provide legally sufficient reasons for discounting plaintiff's credibility; and (3) in finding plaintiff to be capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned agrees the ALJ erred with respect to the limitations found by Dr. West, in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity and in finding plaintiff to be capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in that national economy, and therefore in determining plaintiff to be not disabled. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendant's decision to deny benefits be reversed, and that this matter 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 applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.") (citing Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987)).

Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 ("[T]he Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record."). "The substantial evidence test requires that the reviewing court determine" whether the Commissioner's decision is "supported by more than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a preponderance of the evidence is required." Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975). "If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, " the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) ("Where there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm the decision actually made.") (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).[1]

I. The ALJ's Assessment of Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity

Defendant employs a five-step "sequential evaluation process" to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any particular step thereof, the disability determination is made at that step, and the sequential evaluation process ends. See id. If a disability determination "cannot be made on the basis of medical factors alone at step three of that process, " the ALJ must identify the claimant's "functional limitations and restrictions" and assess his or her "remaining capacities for workrelated activities." Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 *2. A claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment is used at step four to determine whether he or she can do his or her past relevant work, and at step five to determine whether he or she can do other work. See id.

Residual functional capacity thus is what the claimant "can still do despite his or her limitations." Id. It is the maximum amount of work the claimant is able to perform based on all of the relevant evidence in the record. See id. However, an inability to work must result from the claimant's "physical or mental impairment(s)." Id. Thus, the ALJ must consider only those limitations and restrictions "attributable to medically determinable impairments." Id. In assessing a claimant's RFC, the ALJ also is required to discuss why the claimant's ...


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