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Hamadi v. Berryhill

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

April 18, 2017

HALIMA HAMADI, 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 and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the parties' briefs and the remaining record, the Court hereby 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 September 16, 2012 plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability as of June 1, 2011. See Dkt. 10, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. Her application was denied upon initial administrative review on February 21, 2013, and on reconsideration on April 25, 2013. See Id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on October 1, 2014, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did William H. Weiss, an impartial vocational expert. See AR 20-60.

         In a decision dated February 4, 2015, the ALJ determined plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 20-32. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on June 30, 2016, making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”). See AR 1-3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. On September 2, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. See Dkt. 4. The administrative record was filed with the Court on November 14, 2016. See Dkt. 10. The parties have completed their briefing, and thus this matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

         Plaintiff argues defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits, because the ALJ erred:

(1) in evaluating the medical evidence from Paresi Kahirimbanyi, M.D., and Richard Peterson;
(2) in failing to conduct a proper step three analysis;
(3) in discounting plaintiff's credibility; and
(4) in failing to meet her step five burden.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees the ALJ erred in assigning minimal weight to Dr. Kahirimbanyi and Dr. Peterson's medical opinions and in discounting plaintiff's credibility. Because of those errors, the ALJ erred as well in assessing plaintiff's RFC and in finding she could perform other jobs. However, the Court finds reversal and remand for further administrative proceedings, rather than an award for benefits, on this basis is warranted.

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court, if the “proper legal standards” have been applied by the Commissioner, 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. Commissioner of Social Security 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 will, nevertheless, be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.”) (citing Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 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 (“[T]he Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”). “The substantial evidence test requires that the reviewing court determine” whether the Commissioner's decision 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, ” the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (“Where there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm the decision actually made.”) (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         I. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical ...


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