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Bigelow v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

October 12, 2017

TAMI BIGELOW, 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. 6; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 7. This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 14, 15, 16.

         Plaintiff has severe systemic lupus erythematosus (“lupus”) and fibromyalgia. AR. 20. Although there has been some progress in the understanding of these types of impairments generally, as noted in a Ninth Circuit opinion, fibromyalgia's “cause is unknown, there is no cure, and it is poorly-understood within much of the medical community.” Benecke v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 590 (9th Cir. 2004). There are laboratory tests that can help substantiate the presence of these impairments, such as a test for positive antinuclear antibodies (“ANAs”), which plaintiff has. There also are examination findings that can help demonstrate fibromyalgia, such as tender points or trigger points, and plaintiff has demonstrated 18 out of 18 of these. However, here, the ALJ appears to have relied heavily on a finding of a lack of objective medical evidence to substantiate the opinion of plaintiff's treating doctor. In the context of this particular record, and the lack of sufficienet explanation as to what additional objective medical evidence should be present to substantiate the severity of plaintiff's impairments, this reliance does not sufficiently explain the failure to credit fully the treating doctor's opinion.

         Therefore, this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, TAMI BIGELOW, was born in 1962 and was 50 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of December 13, 2012. See AR. 343-51, 352-53. Plaintiff has a GED and attended community college. AR. 60. She has work experience doing data entry. AR. 68-69. Plaintiff lost her job after she broke her knee. AR. 62.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “systemic lupus erythematosus (“lupus”); fibromyalgia; status-post medial plateau fracture, major depressive disorder (“MDD”); post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); and generalized anxiety disorder (“GAD”) (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 20.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her parents. AR. 66.

         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. 119, 132, 145, 160. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Ilene Sloan (“the ALJ”) on December 8, 2014. See AR. 52-94. A supplemental hearing was held on May 5, 2015. See AR. 95-118. On July 23, 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. 14-51.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) The ALJ erred in her weighing of the medical opinion evidence; (2) The ALJ erred in her weighing of the credibility of plaintiff's allegations; and (3) The ALJ erred in her consideration of the testimony of Bruce Holmes. 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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