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Howe v. Berryhill

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

October 2, 2017

MATTHEW HOWE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR AN IMMEDIATE AWARD OF BENEFITS

          JAMES L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Matthew Howe seeks review of the denial of his application for disability insurance benefits. Mr, Howe contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating the medical evidence in the record, the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") disability determination, Mr. Howe's severe impairments, and Mr. Howe's testimony, resulting in a residual functional capacity ("RFC") and step-five finding that were unsupported by substantial evidence. (Op. Br. (Dkt. # 10) at 1.) Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law, the court REVERSES Defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's ("the Commissioner") final decision and REMANDS the matter for an immediate award of benefits.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On May 22,2015, Mr. Howe protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") (Dkt. # 6) at 20.) Mr. Howe's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, (Id.) After the ALJ conducted a hearing on May 9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Howe not disabled. (Id. at 20-38.)

         In her decision, the ALJ utilized the five-step disability evaluation process,[1] and the court summarizes the ALJ's findings as follows:

Step one: Mr. Howe has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 6, 2015, the alleged onset date.
Step two: Mr. Howe has the following severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), traumatic brain injury with mild cognitive disorder, degenerative disc disease, and knee bursitis.
Step three: Mr. Howe does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
RFC: Mr. Howe has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except as follows. He can perform occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing ramps and stairs, but no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. He must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. He can perform simple tasks at a reasoning level one to three. He can have superficial public contact, in that he can work around the public and interact briefly in activities that do not involve customer service, sales, or the potential for confrontations with the general public. He can adjust to occasional changes in a work setting.
Step four: Mr. Howe is unable to perform any past relevant work.
Step five: Because jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Howe can perform, he has not been disabled from October 1, 2012, through the date of the decision.

(See id.) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Howe's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.[3] (See Id. at 1-6.)

         III. ...


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