United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
MARGARITA M. BATTLES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge.
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. 13, 14, 15).
considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes
that the ALJ erred by failing her duty to develop the record.
Although plaintiff testified that she was involuntarily
committed and received inpatient mental health treatment from
May until August, 2014, the ALJ appears to have assumed that
plaintiff only received inpatient mental health treatment for
up to 14 days. See AR. 21. Furthermore, the ALJ did
not develop the record by obtaining plaintiff's treatment
records from this involuntary inpatient mental health
treatment. As plaintiff was not represented by counsel at her
Administrative hearing, the ALJ had a special duty “to
assure that the claimant's interests are
considered.'” Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242
F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Smolen v.
Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1288 (9th Cir. 1996)). This, the
ALJ did not do.
the Court concludes that this matter is reversed and remanded
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the
Acting Commissioner for further consideration consistent with
MARGARITA M. BATTLES, was born in 1960 and was 52 years old
on the alleged date of disability onset of May 1, 2012.
See AR. 231-32, 247-52. Plaintiff has a GED. AR. 84.
Plaintiff has some work history as a debt collector,
accounting clerk, loan processor, administrative clerk and
childcare attendant. AR. 73-75, 81-82, 265-75.
to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of
“presumed osteoarthritis, depressive disorder not
otherwise specified (NOS), anxiety disorder NOS, and
marijuana abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).”
time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her boyfriend
at his brother's home. AR. 67.
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. 117, 118.
requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
Ruperta Alexis (“the ALJ”) on August 21, 2014.
See AR. 54-95. On January 5, 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. 7-30. (There was a prior unappealed ALJ
decision in 2012 finding plaintiff not disabled. See
plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following
issues: (1) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical
evidence, and failed to fully and fairly develop the record
on this issue; (2) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated
plaintiff's testimony, and failed to fully and fairly
develop the record on this issue; (3) Whether the ALJ
properly evaluated the lay evidence; and (4) Whether the ALJ
properly assessed plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (RFC) and erred by basing her step five finding on
her erroneous RFC assessment. See Dkt. 13, p. 1.
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 ...