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Oliverson v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2017

SARA J. OLIVERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 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 application for disability insurance 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 January 27, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance, alleging she became disabled beginning July 1, 2008. Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (AR) 11. That application was denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. At a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a lay witness and a vocational expert. AR 41-84.

         In a written decision dated September 21, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work, and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 123-32. Plaintiff's request for review was granted by the Appeals Council, which remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. AR 141-43. On remand, a second hearing was held before the same ALJ, at which plaintiff appeared and testified, as did the same vocational expert. AR 85-132.

         In a written decision dated March 26, 2015, 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 11-23. On July 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making it the final decision of the Commissioner, which plaintiff then appealed in a complaint with this Court on October 1, 2016. AR 1; Dkt. 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

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

(1) in evaluating the opinion evidence from Amy Picco, M.D., Kristine L. Young, PA-C, Ryan Jeffrey, DC, Leslie Postovoit, Ph.D., Kent Reade, Ph.D., Jacqueline Farwell, M.D., Dale Thuline, M.D., Jeremy Biggs, M.D., and Aaron Hunt, M.D.;
(2) in discounting plaintiff's credibility;
(3) in rejecting the lay witness evidence in the record;
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC); and
(4) 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 opinion evidence from Ms. Young, and therefore in assessing plaintiff's RFC and in finding she could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Also for the reasons set forth below, however, the Court finds remand for further administrative proceedings, rather than an outright award of benefits, 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 ...


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