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Ruiz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

August 9, 2017

SARAH E. RUIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER VACATING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Sarah E. Ruiz filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 6.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Andrew Ayars, M.D. Had the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. Therefore, the ALJ's error is harmful and the Court orders the Commissioner's final decision be vacated in its entirety and this matter remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for a de novo hearing consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of September 1, 2004. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 17. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 17. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on June 19, 2014. Id.

         ALJ Mary Gallagher Dilley heard the matter on February 10, 2015. See AR 29-60. In a decision dated May 26, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 17-24. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-4; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, she maintains the ALJ erred by: (I) failing to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Ayars; and (II) concluding Plaintiff is capable of meeting the attendance tolerances of employers. See Dkt. 11 at 2.

         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 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I.Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the medical opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Ayars. Dkt. 11 at 5-9. Defendant asserts the ALJ gave the opinion the appropriate weight based on the record as a whole. Dkt. 12 at 8.

         On February 9, 2015, Dr. Ayars wrote a letter detailing his medical opinion of Plaintiff's health limitations. AR 530. Therein, he stated he has treated Plaintiff since August 2013, and opined, “[f]rom an infectious standpoint, she is at a much higher risk for severe, systemic infections than the general population” because of her common variable immunodeficiency. AR 530. He also opined that while Plaintiff's recurrent infections have improved due to her immunoglobulin replacement therapy, she requires antibiotics periodically throughout the year and recently missed her final examinations at Central Washington University (“CW”) due to a hospitalization. AR 530. Dr. Ayars further stated Plaintiff requires “chronic prednisone” which can have long-term detrimental health effects. AR 530.

         Finally, Dr. Ayars stated, “while the goal for patients” like Plaintiff is “to lead normal lives, this is often difficult given the infectious and rheumatologic issues that these patients experience.” AR 530. With Plaintiff in particular, Dr. Ayars opined that Plaintiff's severe previous infectious issues and her granulomatous lymphocytic interstitial lung disease would “interfere with her ability to maintained [sic] regular attendance both in school and in the workplace.” AR 530. He then concluded, “[w]hile it is impossible to ...


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