United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
SALLIE J. PROCTOR, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. 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 applications for disability
insurance and 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
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
October 22, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance and another one for SSI benefits,
alleging in both applications that she became disabled
beginning August 27, 2007. Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (AR)
669. Both applications were denied on initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. Id. At a hearing held
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), plaintiff appeared
and testified. AR 20-42.
written decision dated February 16, 2010, the ALJ found
plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 10-19. Following denial of
her request for review of that decision, plaintiff filed an
appeal with this Court, which on December 19, 2011, reversed
and remanded the matter for further administrative
proceedings. AR 346-67.
remand, a hearing was held before a different ALJ, at which
plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a medical expert and
a lay witness. AR 225-91. Plaintiff also appeared and
testified at a supplemental hearing, as did the same lay
witness and a different medical expert. AR 292-344. In a
written decision dated March 28, 2013, the ALJ found
plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 669. However, this Court
again remanded the matter for further administrative
proceedings on August 19, 2014, following denial of the
request for review by the Appeals Council and plaintiff's
appeal. AR 703-31.
third hearing held before a third ALJ, plaintiff appeared and
testified as did a vocational expert. AR 732-60. In a written
decision dated February 26, 2016, the ALJ found that prior to
December 17, 2013, plaintiff was capable of performing other
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy,
and therefore that she was not disabled prior thereto. AR
685-86. The ALJ further found, however, that as of December
17, 2013, plaintiff was unable to perform other jobs existing
in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore
that she was disabled as of that date. AR 686-87.
appears that the Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction
of the matter, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision, which plaintiff appealed
in a complaint filed with this Court on June 30, 2016. Dkt.
3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff seeks reversal of that
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 opinion evidence from Rebecca
Hendryx, M.D., Marie Ho, M.D., Joseph Elias, M.D., and Anne
(2) in discounting plaintiff's credibility;
(3) in rejecting the lay witness evidence in the record;
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(4) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy.
reasons set forth below, the Court agrees the ALJ erred in
evaluating the opinion evidence from Dr. Ho and Dr. Winkler,
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.
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 ...