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Apodac v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 20, 2017

WENDY APODAC, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, 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, 19, 20).

         Plaintiff suffered from abuse from her mother as a child. Beginning when plaintiff was nine years old, her mother would give her methamphetamines in the morning so that she would get up and do chores, contributing to a subsequent thirty-year addiction to methamphetamines. Although plaintiff became clean and sober for at least 17 years, through the date of her Administrative hearing, she was in special education classes in school, dropped out of school in the eighth or ninth grade, and alleges that she has been suffering from debilitating anxiety and depression.

         The ALJ failed to credit fully plaintiff's testimony, the opinions of plaintiff's treating mental health counselor, and the lay statement offered by plaintiff's husband. Despite the ALJ's implication that some of plaintiff's husband's reports were inconsistent, this finding is not based on substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Plaintiff's husband reported that although plaintiff did not often do chores, when she did, it would take her all day to get something done, further noting that she watched TV all day. Taking all day to get a chore done and also watching TV all day are not necessarily inconsistent. Furthermore, although the ALJ found that his description of plaintiff's difficulties with focus and concentration is not corroborated by mental status findings, such is an improper basis for the failure to credit fully lay evidence.

         Therefore, this matter is reversed and remanded for further Administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, WENDY APODAC, was born in 1962 and was 47 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of April 1, 2012. See AR. 30, 53, 187. Plaintiff has a GED. AR. 62. Plaintiff has work experience as a cashier, customer service representative, and floral manager. AR. 206-15.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “generalized anxiety disorder and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 55.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband and 23 year old son. AR. 6.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act were denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 70, 71, 94, 95. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Glenn G. Meyers (“the ALJ”) on October 7, 2014. See AR. 1-43. On February 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. AR. 50-68.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ provided germane reasons for rejecting the lay testimony (2) Whether the ALJ provided clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's testimony; and (3) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion of plaintiff's treating mental health provider, Ms. Jill Klenota. 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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