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Smith v. Berryhill

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

March 24, 2017

KENNETH E. SMITH, 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. 12, 13, 14.

         Plaintiff endured three deaths of women close to him -- his grandmother, mother, and fiancé -- all within a two-month time span, September through November 2012. See AR. 433. Plaintiff contends that when he filed his disability applications, the Social Security Agent selected his alleged date of disability onset in 2010, with “no contact with claimant.” AR. 336. However, in his briefing, plaintiff contends that his disability began in December, 2012, shortly after the deaths of these three women. See Dkt. 12, p. 11.

         On three different occasions, December 20, 2012; July 23, 2013; and November 4, 2014, two different examining doctors both opined that plaintiff suffered from a severe limitation in his ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms. See AR. 435 (Dr. Wheeler), 544 (Dr. Krueger), 642 (Dr. Krueger again). “Severe” means inability to perform the particular activity in regular competitive employment or outside of a sheltered workshop. See id.

         The ALJ failed to credit fully these opinions with a finding that they were based heavily on plaintiff's subjective complaints, however neither the ALJ nor defendant cites anything from the record demonstrating as such. See AR. 90. The ALJ also provided her own interpretation of the mental status examinations, finding that plaintiff's performance was “normal, ” however that was not the interpretation provided by the psychologists who performed the examinations and the finding by the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Although the ALJ also noted plaintiff's activities of daily living of getting along with others, being able to socialize with his family, and visit public places, none of these activities demonstrate that plaintiff was able to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms, nor do they demonstrate that plaintiff was able to maintain attention and concentration two hours at a time, eight hours per day, five days per week.

         Therefore, the Court concludes that the ALJ failed to offer specific and legitimate reasons based on substantial evidence in the record as a whole for her failure to credit fully the opinions of plaintiff's examining doctors, Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Krueger.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that this matter should be reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, KENNETH E. SMITH, was born in 1968 and was 42 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of May 31, 2010. See AR. 293-99, 300-305. Plaintiff completed high school and attended college, but did not obtain a degree. AR. 104. He has work experience as a truck driver, transportation manager, plant supervisor and dispatcher. AR. 415-16. Plaintiff's last job was as a transportation manager for a trucking company, but the job ended when the company went out of business. AR. 105-106.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “major depressive disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder [“PTSD”]; [and] personality disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).” AR. 82.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living alone in a mobile home on his sister's property. AR. 115-16.

         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. 135-44, 146-55, 157-67, 169-79. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Kelly Wilson (“the ALJ”) on January 26, 2015. See AR. 99-133. On February 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 77-98.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) The ALJ failed to provide legitimate reasons for rejecting the medical opinions of examining psychologists Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Krueger; (2) The ALJ did not provide any reasons germane to Cheryl Smith for rejecting her lay evidence; (3) The ALJ did not provide clear or convincing reasons for finding plaintiff not credible; and (4) The ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment was incomplete, as it did not include any limitations related to plaintiff's daytime somnolence. See Dkt. 12, 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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