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Golden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 19, 2017

MELISSA GOLDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          J. Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge.

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 (see also Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S. Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, Dkt. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 6). This matter has been fully briefed (see Dkt. 11, 13, 14).

         Plaintiff was assaulted at the age of 11 by the boyfriend of her aunt. AR. 335. This continued until plaintiff was 13, “when her great-grandmother caught him.” Id. The perpetrator “was convicted and [sentenced to] 7-11 years, ” and indicated that he “wanted to try to see [plaintiff] when he got out.” Id. Although plaintiff received her GED at the age of 16, the last grade she completed in high school was 10th grade. Id.

         In high school, plaintiff began to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) symptoms, where she is hypervigilant and suffers from flashbacks, nightmares, self-harming behavior, and panic attacks. Id.

         Although the ALJ found that the opinions from an examining psychologist were based largely on plaintiff's self-reports, the record demonstrates that the psychologist, Dr. McDuffee, performed a mental status examination, on which she relied, and also personally observed various of plaintiff's symptoms, such as her high anxiety. Because the ALJ's finding that the psychologist's opinion was based largely on self-reports is not supported by substantial evidence, and because this is the only reason explicitly relied on by the ALJ for failing to credit fully this medical opinion, this matter is reversed and remanded for further administrative consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, MELISSA GOLDEN, was born in 1988 and was 22 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of March 1, 2011, and 24 years old on her protective filing date of May 16, 2013. See AR. 176-81. Plaintiff did not complete high school, but did get a GED. AR. 50-51. Plaintiff has some work experience as a cashier, housekeeper/cleaner and child monitor. AR. 43-45.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “obesity, disorder of the respiratory system, anxiety disorder, and an effective disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).” AR. 18.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in an apartment with her ex-boyfriend. AR. 61-62.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 76, 98. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Tom L. Morris (“the ALJ”) on February 24, 2015. See AR. 33-75. On April 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 13-32.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ erred in his weighing of Dr. McDuffee's opinion; and (2) Whether the ALJ erred in assessing plaintiff's allegations and testimony in regard to the severity and limiting effects of her mental impairments. See Dkt. 11, p. 1.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 ...


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