United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
LAURA A. WESSELIUS, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
L. Strombom United States Magistrate Judge
has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her application for 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 7, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for SSI
benefits, alleging she became disabled beginning February 1,
2007. Dkt. 12, Administrative Record (AR) 870. That
application was denied on initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. Id. At a video hearing held
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), plaintiff appeared
and testified. AR 34-67. She also amended her alleged onset
date of disability to January 7, 2009. AR 870.
decision dated December 1, 2010, the ALJ found that plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work, and therefore that she
was not disabled. AR 16-27. Plaintiff's request for
review of that decision was denied by the Appeals Council on
August 1, 2011. AR 1. On April 25, 2012, this Court reversed
the ALJ's decision and remanded this matter for further
administrative proceedings. AR 1004-1028.
second hearing was held on remand before the same ALJ, at
which plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a vocational
expert. AR 905-959. In a decision dated July 14, 2014, the
ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform other jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and
therefore that she was not disabled. AR 870-893. It appears
the Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction of the
matter, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision, which plaintiff then appealed in a complaint
filed with this Court on February 12, 2016. Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R.
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an
award of benefits, or in the alternative for further
administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:
(1) in evaluating the medical and other opinion evidence in
the record, including from Mary Ballard, M.D., Janis Lewis,
Ph.D., Shannon Kellogg, Psy.D., Victoria McDuffee, Ph.D.,
William Wilkinson, Ed.D., Sean Mee, Ph.D., Leslie Postovoit,
Ph.D., Eugene Kester, M.D., Mary Gentile Ph.D., and Angela
(2) in rejecting plaintiff's testimony;
(3) in evaluating the lay witness evidence in the record;
(4) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(5) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy.
reasons set forth below, the Court agrees that the ALJ erred
in evaluating the opinion evidence from Dr. Lewis, Dr.
McDuffee, and Ms. Coe, and thus in assessing plaintiff's
RFC and in finding she could perform other jobs. Also for the
reasons set forth below, however, remand for further
administrative proceedings, rather than an award of benefits,
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.
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)).
The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical and ...