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Hale v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

November 17, 2017

AMY WALKER HALE, 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. 3; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 5). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 9, 10, 11.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred when failing to credit fully the medical opinion from plaintiff's long-term treating physician. For example, although the ALJ relied on the primary care physician's lack of specialty, this is not a valid basis for failing to credit fully a medical opinion, especially from a treating physician. Similarly, although the ALJ relied on the fact that the physician's opinion was issued a few years before the ALJ's written decision, the opinion nevertheless was offered during the relevant period of time, after plaintiff's alleged date of disability onset. Therefore, this rationale, too, does not provide a valid basis for failing to credit fully the medical opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Vandermeer.

         Therefore, for the reason stated and based on the record as a whole, the Court concludes that this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, AMY WALKER HALE, was born in 1972 and was 39 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of July 20, 2012. See AR. 354-55. Plaintiff graduated from high school (AR. 31) and completed a 2-year degree in college with accommodation (AR. 104-10). Plaintiff has experience doing general office work, janitorial work and packaging parts. AR. 54-55. Plaintiff left her employment when she was physically unable to do the job. AR. 56.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease; headaches; [and] Raynaud's syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” AR. 25.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband in their home. AR. 56.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 143, 156. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Laura Valente (“the ALJ”) on May 23, 2013. See AR. 41-93. On September 26, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 169-89. The Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ on May 4, 2015. See AR. 190-94. Plaintiff's second hearing before the ALJ was held on May 10, 2016 (AR. 94-142) and on August 10, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision in which she again concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 19-40.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for rejecting three medical source opinions; (2) whether the ALJ provided clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's testimony; and (3) whether remand for a finding of disability is the proper remedy in this case. See Dkt. 9, 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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