United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge
has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for Social
Security 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
pursuant to the reasoning of Vertigan v. Halter, 260
F.3d 1044 (9thCir. 2001), and that this matter
should be remanded for further administrative proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
16, 2013, the plaintiff filed an application for Title II
disability insurance benefits; on August 9, 2013 she filed an
application for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
benefits. The plaintiff alleges that she was first injured in
2008. AR 64. She experienced back pain and other symptoms,
and pursued treatment for her medical condition, which her
treating physicians have addressed through drugs, injections,
and surgical intervention, during the years 2008-2014. AR
64-65, 77-79, 497-520, 532-544. The plaintiff alleges that
she became disabled due to a medical condition that causes
musculoskeletal pain and due to migraine headaches, beginning
February 1, 2012. AR 212-222. The plaintiff has acquired
sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through
June 30, 2017. Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (AR) 26.
the plaintiff's applications were denied on initial
administrative review (October 14, 2013) and on
reconsideration (March 21, 2014). Id. at 90-140,
144-165. The plaintiff appealed and a hearing was held before
an administrative law judge (ALJ) on September 23, 2014. The
plaintiff testified at the hearing as did a vocational
expert, Ms. Jones. Id. at 40.
written decision dated March 20, 2015, the ALJ determined
that the criteria of steps one and two were satisfied, but
found that the criteria of steps three, four and five were
not. AR 28-34. Regarding step three of the analysis, the ALJ
determined that the plaintiff's degenerative disc disease
did not satisfy the criteria for the relevant category 1.04
within the Social Security Administration's Listing of
Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1,
“because there is no evidence of nerve root
compression” and other medical indicia that would be
necessary for a determination under listing 1.04. AR 9.
also determined that plaintiff's headaches did not meet
the criteria for disability under step three because she
never missed work as a result of a headache, and her
headaches appeared to be effectively controlled with
medication. AR 31.
found that plaintiff could perform past work as an insurance
agent (step four) and other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy (step five). AR 33-34.
Because the ALJ determined that the plaintiff's back
condition did not satisfy the indicia of listing 1.04, and
that plaintiff's headaches did not constitute a
disability, and that plaintiff was capable of making a
successful adjustment to previous work, the ALJ concluded
that she was not disabled. AR 29-34. The ALJ also made a
finding as to step five -- that the plaintiff is capable of
making a successful adjustment to other, future work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy. AR 34.
In conclusion, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's
applications for benefits. AR 34.
request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on
August 25, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. The plaintiff then appealed in
a complaint filed with this Court on October 21, 2016. AR
1-6; Dkt. 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
plaintiff 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 evidence;
(2) in discounting plaintiff's credibility;
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional
(4) in finding plaintiff could perform her past relevant
(5) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in ...