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Sanford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

November 22, 2017

CRAIG ALAN SANFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          J. Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 4(a)(4), and as authorized by Mathews, Secretary of H.E.W. v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 271-72 (1976). This matter has been fully briefed (see Dkt. 13, 17, 18).

         According to Social Security Ruling 96-6p, state agency medical consultants, while not examining doctors, “are highly qualified physicians and psychologists who are experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in disability claims under the Act.” SSR 96-6p, 1996 LEXIS 3 at *4. Although often relied on heavily, the opinion from the state agency physician, Dr. Norman Staley, M.D., in this matter was rejected in part by the ALJ. Committing legal error, the ALJ did not reference specific medical evidence when failing to credit fully the medical opinion of Dr. Staley that plaintiff was limited only to occasional handling, fingering, and reaching in front and laterally. Even if the Court were to presume that the ALJ was relying on findings discussed by defendant, the ALJ's rationale still is not based on substantial evidence in the record as a whole.

         Therefore, after considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred when evaluating the medical evidence, and that this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Report and Recommendation.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, CRAIG ALAN SANFORD, was born in 1970 and was 42 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of July 25, 2012 (see AR. 12, 37, 250-56, 257-63). Plaintiff has at least a high school education (AR. 25). Plaintiff has work experience in purchasing, receiving, stocking, materials manager and warehouse clerking (see AR. 289-300).

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “spine disorder, disorder of muscle ligament and fascia, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, substance addiction disorder, and personality disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” (AR. 15.)

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with his father (AR. 42).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance (“DIB”) benefits 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. 101, 102, 129-130). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Boyce (“the ALJ”) on July 28, 2015 (see AR. 33-73). On September 18, 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. 9-32).

         On November 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the written decision by the ALJ the final agency decision subject to judicial review (AR. 1-7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's written decision in December, 2016 (see Dkt. 3). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter (“AR.”) on May 22, 2017 (see Dkt. 11).

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ erred when she rejected medical opinions of plaintiff's physical limitations and when she failed to include appropriate limitations in the RFC assessment; and (2) whether the ALJ's finding that plaintiff can perform other work at step five is supported by competent or substantial evidence (see Dkt. 13, 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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