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Larsson v. Berryhill

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

June 1, 2017

MARCEL ARLENE LARSSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 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.

         Both of 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.

         In a 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.

         The ALJ 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.

         The ALJ 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.

         Plaintiff's 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.

         The 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 capacity;
(4) in finding plaintiff could perform her past relevant work; and
(5) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in ...

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