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Harvey-Mitchell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

August 24, 2017

ERICA HARVEY-MITCHELL, 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. 13, 14.

         Plaintiff had a baby in January 2013 and later developed postpartum cardiomyopathy (“PPCM”). See, e.g., AR. 283. PPCM presents with symptoms of heart failure secondary to left ventricular systolic dysfunction, such as shortness of breath and cardiomegaly (enlarged heart) and symptoms of acute renal failure. See Dkt. 14, pp. 3-5 (citing, e.g., Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, Michael P. Carson, M.D., Http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/153153-overview(last visited August 21, 2017)). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to conclude that some of these symptoms were severe impairments and by failing to conclude that plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled a Listed Impairment.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not commit any harmful error during the evaluation of plaintiff's Social Security application. Although plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to conclude that some of her impairments were severe, plaintiff failed to carry her burden to demonstrate that any of these impairments were independent medically determinable impairments lasting for at least a year. For example, although plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly failed to conclude that her shortness of breath was a severe impairment, the record shows that plaintiff's shortness of breath resolved within six months of her alleged onset date of disability. Similarly, regarding plaintiff's allegation regarding Listing 4.02, heart failure, plaintiff did not provide evidence demonstrating, as alleged, that her ejection fraction was 30 percent or less for more than six months from the date of alleged disability onset.

         Therefore, this matter is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, ERICA LA TRESHIA HARVEY-MITCHELL, was born in 1977 and was 36 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of July 20, 2013. See AR. 22, 183- 86, 187-92. Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. See AR. 29. Plaintiff has experience working in child care centers. AR. 43-45.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “history of postpartum cardiomyopathy and morbid obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 24.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her three children. AR. 48.

         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. 65, 66, 83, 84. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Timothy Mangrum (“the ALJ”) on December 23, 2014. See AR. 35-64. On June 5, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 19-34.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Did the Commissioner err in determining plaintiff's severe impairments; (2) Did the Commissioner err in determining that plaintiff did not meet or equal a medical listing; (3) Did the Commissioner err in evaluating plaintiff's residual functional capacity; and (4) Did the Commissioner err because the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. See Dkt. 13, p. 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

         (1) Did the Commissioner err in determining plaintiff's severe impairments?

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred at step two when considering plaintiff's severe impairments, arguing that the ALJ failed to consider whether plaintiff's other numerous impairments were severe, and therefore failed to account for any limitations based on those impairments. See Dkt. 13, pp. 5-7. Defendant contends that there is no error, and even if there is any error, it is harmless error. See Dkt. 14, pp. 2-8.

         Step-two of the administration's evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine if the claimant “has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289-90 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (1996). The step-two determination of whether a disability is severe is merely a threshold determination, raising potentially only a “prima facie case of a ...


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