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Hobbs v. Berryhill

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

January 31, 2017

JILLIANE HOBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Karen L. Strombom, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of her applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed, and that this matter should be remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 10, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and on October 31, 2012, she filed another one for SSI benefits, alleging in both applications that she became disabled beginning January 1, 2012. Dkt. 10, Administrative Record (AR), 12. Both applications were denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. At a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. AR 32-73. At the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to April 30, 2013. AR 12.

         In a written decision dated September 24, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 12-24. On May 20, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner, which plaintiff then appealed in a complaint with this Court on June 16, 2016. AR 1; Dkt. 1-3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in evaluating the medical opinion evidence in the record;
(2) in assessing plaintiff's credibility; and
(3) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinion evidence, and thus in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs, but finds remand for further administrative proceedings is warranted.

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if the “proper legal standards” have been applied, 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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. 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 nevertheless will be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.” Carr, 772 F.Supp. at 525 (citing Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Sers., 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.

         The Commissioner's findings will be upheld “if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Substantial evidence requires the Court to determine whether the Commissioner's determination 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, ” that decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm the decision actually made.” Allen, 749 F.2d at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         I. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical ...


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