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Tiff-McCauley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 22, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.


          J. Richard Creatura, United States 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, Dkt. 6; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 7. This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 11, 12, 13.

         Plaintiff was physically abused by her father; sexually abused by her step father between the ages of nine and twelve; and physically abused by her first husband. AR. 545 (father), 865 (stepfather); see also AR. 842 (both). As a result, she developed anxiety and was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) in 2008. Id. However, although plaintiff attempted counseling in 2013, which was interrupted by the death of her father, she did not return, reporting that it is “a lot harder for me to go talk about it and relive everything than just not.” AR. 940; see also AR. 883, 1074.

         Regarding her physical impairments, plaintiff first injured her back in June 2010, while moving a resident while working as a CNA. AR. 545, 671. Plaintiff reported re-injuring her back in the winter of 2010 when she fell on the ice. AR. 48.

         Plaintiff's primary care provider filled out a check-box form indicating that plaintiff could not work, and hand wrote the explanation that plaintiff could not “lift heavy objects; sit or stand for long periods of time; bend over; reach above; [] concentrate;” or do repetitive motions because of her pain. AR. 581. Therefore, the ALJ's failure to credit fully the opinion from plaintiff's primary care provider on the basis that she only “checked multiple boxes without explaining her rationale, ” is not legitimate as the Ninth Circuit has held that a doctor's opinion cannot be rejected solely because it is provided on a check-the-box form. Nor is it based on substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See AR. 901 (citation and footnote omitted). Furthermore, although the ALJ finds that plaintiff's primary care provider did not indicate whether she agreed with the particular assessment from the doctor of physical therapy, plaintiff's primary care provider actually attached these particular records to her opinion, strongly suggesting agreement with them, especially as they supported her opinion.

         The ALJ rejects, at least in part, every medical opinion in plaintiff's medical record. However, the ALJ has failed to explain why his own evaluation of the objective medical evidence is more correct than those of plaintiff's treating and examining doctors, and even the state agency reviewing doctors.

         Therefore, after considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Order.


         Plaintiff, ASHLEY TIFF-MCCAULEY, was born in 1985 and was 26 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of July 1, 2011. See AR. 223-30, 231-36. Plaintiff received her GED. AR. 252, 902. Plaintiff has work experience as a cashier, hostess, baker/prep cook, housekeeper and nursing assistant. AR. 281-92. Plaintiff left her last employment after an injury on the job. AR. 49-50.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “back disorder; [and] anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 892.

         At the time of the last hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband and son. AR. 934, 957, 964.


         Plaintiff's applications 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. 81-92, 93-103, 106-120, 121-35. Plaintiff's first requested hearing resulted in an unfavorable decision and a remand for further proceedings. See AR. 15-34, 1006-11, 1012-17. Plaintiff's second requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Wayne N. Araki (“the ALJ”) on January 14, 2016. See AR. 910-76. On May 26, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 886-909.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Did the ALJ fail to evaluate properly the medical opinion of treating physician Dr. Deepika Goshike, the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Johansen, and the opinions of reviewing psychologist Dr. Richard Borton and reviewing physician Dr. Norman Staley; and (2) Did the ALJ improperly find that plaintiff's symptom testimony was not supported by the medical evidence without providing specific, clear, and convincing reasons. See Dkt. 11, p. 2.

         STANDARD ...

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