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O'Neal v. Berryhill

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

March 23, 2017

AMANDA O'NEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

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

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes the ALJ committed harmful legal error when she failed to credit fully the medical opinion of an examining doctor regarding plaintiff's workplace limitations. The ALJ's conclusory opinion that the record is completely devoid of support for the doctor's opinion is contrary to the record as a whole, which includes six years of supportive objective findings from three other treating providers. Additionally, the ALJ's conclusion that the doctor's opinions are inconsistent with plaintiff's activities is not based on substantial evidence, but rather upon an undeveloped record regarding plaintiff's parenting skills and custody dispute, and an isolated incident in which plaintiff successfully managed anger.

         Therefore, this matter is reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, AMANDA O'NEAL, was born in 1982 and was 24 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of February 15, 2007. See AR. 409-10, 411-19. Plaintiff did not complete high school, but has her GED. AR. 48. She has some work experience as a backroom stocker and has worked temporarily as a clam digger, planter in a greenhouse, and hostess in a restaurant. AR. 50-51. Plaintiff last worked part-time for Target as a backroom stocker in 2005 and 2006. AR. 48.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “cervical and lumbar back strain; congenital fusion of C4-5, with mild changes; possible Chiari I malformation; right wrist extensor and tendonitis; affective disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); borderline personality disorder; and polysubstance dependence, in sustained remission since 2010 (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 17.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in a transitional women and children's house with her 3 ½ year old daughter. AR. 47-48.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         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. 134-45, 148-58, 161-77, 178-94. Plaintiff's first hearing resulted in an unfavorable decision by the Administrative Law Judge. See AR. 199-218. The Appeals Council remanded (AR. 219-22) and plaintiff's second hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Matz (“the ALJ”) on June 17, 2014. See AR. 38-82. On September 8, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 11-35.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether or not the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the medical opinion evidence; (2) Whether or not the ALJ erred in her evaluation of plaintiff's credibility; (3) Whether or not the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the lay witness statement pertaining to plaintiff's mental impairments; and (4) Whether or not the proper remedy for the errors is a remand for payment of benefits. See Dkt. 11, p. 1.

         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 ...


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