United States District Court, W.D. Washington
BRENDA J. HECK, 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. 3; Consent to Proceed
Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 4). This matter
has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 12, 13, 14.
was in a motorcycle accident in 2008. Despite suffering from
various impairments and symptoms as a result of this
accident, plaintiff nevertheless was able to maintain full
time gainful employment from 2008 through mid-2013. However,
plaintiff alleges that her conditions worsened over time, in
part based on an additional subsequent motor vehicle
accident. The ALJ relied heavily on a finding that the
objective evidence did not demonstrate any worsening in
plaintiff's limitations. However, when making this
finding, the ALJ failed to acknowledge significant probative
evidence of a 2013 opinion from a treating physician
regarding plaintiff's specific work-related limitations.
concedes that the ALJ erred by failing to discuss this
significant probative evidence, but contends that the error
is harmless. Although defendant offers an alternative
rationale that the ALJ could have relied on when failing to
credit fully this 2013 opinion from the treating physician,
the Court is obliged to consider only the actual findings
offered by the ALJ. Furthermore, contrary to defendant's
argument, the 2013 opinion is not “virtually
identical” to the subsequent 2014 opinion addressed by
the ALJ. Even if the ALJ would have relied on her findings
related to the 2014 opinion, such reliance would not be based
on substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
the Court concludes that this matter must be reversed and
remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
to the Acting Commissioner for further administrative
proceedings consistent with this order.
BRENDA J. HECK, was born in 1963 and was 49 years old on the
alleged date of disability onset of June 20, 2013.
See AR. 251-58. Plaintiff has work experience as a
secretary. AR. 54-57. Plaintiff's last employment ended
when she was unable to perform her job duties. AR. 79.
to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of
“degenerative disk disease of the lumbar and cervical
spine, left upper extremity arthropathy, migraine headaches,
pain disorder with both psychological factors and medical
conditions, cognitive disorder not otherwise specified (NOS),
affective disorder NOS and anxiety disorder NOS (20 CFR
404.1520(c)).” AR. 24.
time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband in
their home. AR. 89-91.
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title
II) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and
following reconsideration. See AR. 120, 134.
Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge Laura Valente (“the
ALJ”) on February 17, 2015. See AR. 47-119. On
May 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. 18-46.
plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following
issues: (1) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinions
of Carolyn Marquardt, MD; (2) Whether the ALJ properly
evaluated the opinions of Kristen Sherman, PhD; (3) Whether
the ALJ properly evaluated the opinions of Martha Glisky,
PhD, and fully developed the record as to her opinions; (4)
Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of H.L.
Rappaport, MD; (5) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the
observations of Asako Konoike, Darlene Jacintho, and Michael
Nahum; (6) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff's
ability to perform past work; and (7) Whether the ALJ
properly assessed plaintiff's credibility. See
Dkt. 12, 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 ...