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Chick v. Berryhill

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

July 25, 2017

MELISSA A. CHICK, 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. 7). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 14, 15, 16.

         At issue in this case is plaintiff's abilities regarding sustained sitting, standing, and walking. In September, 2013, an MRI of plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed “a large left herniated disc at ¶ 5-S1 with severe central canal stenosis and disc protrusions at ¶ 3-L4 and L4-L5.” AR. 28 (citation omitted). In October, 2013, plaintiff underwent surgery on her lower back, consisting of a laminectomy. See Id. As acknowledged by the ALJ, consistent with plaintiff's allegations, “post-operative MRI images in February, 2014 and January, 2015 showed, among other things, that the herniated disc at ¶ 5-S1 appeared larger than it did preoperatively, and [plaintiff] still had severe central canal stenosis and other disc protrusions in her lumbar spine." Id. (citations omitted).

         The ALJ rejected plaintiff's allegations of limitations in sustained sitting, standing and walking based, in part, on a finding of inconsistency with plaintiff's activities of daily living. However, the activities of daily living noted by the ALJ, such as performing light household chores, watching television, going shopping in stores, and using the computer, are not inconsistent with plaintiff's allegations of limitations in sustained sitting, standing and walking. Furthermore, while appearing to rely heavily on plaintiff's dramatic presentation, the ALJ failed to acknowledge significant probative evidence regarding observations of plaintiff's treating physician and examination findings such as positive left straight leg raising, absent left ankle jerk and inability to sit still.

         Therefore, the Court concludes that this matter requires further administrative development and is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further consideration consistent with this order. Following remand of this matter, the ALJ should be sure to evaluate functional assessments from plaintiff's treating providers with respect to the period of time both before and after her 2013 surgery.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, MELISSA A. CHICK, was born in 1978 and was 32 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of February 15, 2011. See AR. 259-60, 261-69. Plaintiff has at least a 12th grade education. AR. 49.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “lumbar stenosis and herniation, status post laminectomy; neck strain, status post C-6 fracture; polysubstance abuse; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); anxiety disorder; and depressive disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 22.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her parents in their home. AR. 48-49.

         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. 20. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Joanne E. Dantonio (“the ALJ”) on November 19, 2014. See AR. 41-106. On April 28, 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. 17-40.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Did the ALJ err by rejecting all of the opinions about plaintiff's ability to perform the sitting and standing required for sedentary work, and then substituting her opinion for that of a doctor and formulating a RFC which lacks the support of physicians or other experts; and (2) Did the ALJ err by failing to develop the record when she rejected all of the medical opinions in evidence about plaintiff's back impairments. See Dkt. 14, 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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