United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
Randal Howard Lee filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of Plaintiff's applications for supplemental security
income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and Local Rule MJR 13,
the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the
undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 6.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his
treatment of Plaintiff's testimony and the lay witness
testimony. Had the ALJ properly considered this evidence, the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have
included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is
therefore not harmless, and this matter is reversed and
remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
November 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as of May 2, 2012. See Dkt.
9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 18. The
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 18. A hearing was
held before ALJ David Johnson on November 17, 2015. AR
39-100. In a decision dated December 24, 2015, the ALJ
granted a partially favorable decision, finding Plaintiff
disabled as of August 5, 2014. AR 18-30. Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-3; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.981, § 416.1481.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) failing to include in Plaintiff's RFC that
he can only stand and walk for four hours of an eight-hour
work day; (2) failing to provide specific, clear and
convincing reasons to discredit Plaintiff's testimony;
and (3) failing to give germane reasons to reject lay witness
testimony. Dkt. 11, pp. 1-12.
the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of August 5, 2014, the
relevant time period for this case is the alleged onset date
- May 2, 2012 - through the date prior to the finding of
disability - August 4, 2014.
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
Whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's
first argues the ALJ erred by failing to include in the RFC a
limitation that Plaintiff can only stand and walk for four
hours out of an eight-hour work day. Dkt. 11, pp. 3-6, 10-11;
Dkt. 15, pp. 1-3. Specifically, Plaintiff argues the ALJ
erred because the RFC limited Plaintiff to
“light” work and under Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 83-10, “the full range of light
work requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of
approximately [six] hours of an [eight]-hour workday.”
See Dkt. 11, pp. 5-6, 10-11 (citing SSR 83-10, 1983
WL 31251, at *6 (1983)).
is “an assessment of an individual's ability to do
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in a
work setting on a regular and continuing basis.” SSR
96-9p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (1996). An RFC must include an
individual's functional limitations or restrictions and
assess his “work-related abilities on a
function-by-function basis.” Id. Furthermore,
an RFC must take into account all of an individual's
limitations. Valentine v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009). Thus, an ALJ
errs when he provides an incomplete RFC ignoring
“significant and probative evidence.” Jones
v. Colvin, 2015 WL 71709, at *5 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 6,
2015) (citing Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161
(9th Cir. 2012)).
however, “harmless error principles apply in the Social
Security context.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d
1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). An ALJ's
error is harmless if it is “inconsequential” to
the ALJ's “ultimate nondisability
determination.” Stout v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006).
Gary Gaffield, D.O., examined Plaintiff on February 4, 2014.
AR 359-64. Dr. Gaffield opined Plaintiff was limited to
walking or standing for four hours in an eight-hour work day.
AR 359, 363. On July 24, 2014, Dr. Gordon Hale, M.D., also
opined Plaintiff was limited to walking or standing for four
hours in an eight-hour work day. AR 126, 128. The ALJ
discussed these doctors' findings, including each
doctor's opinion that Plaintiff was limited to walking
and standing for up to four hours. AR 23-24. The ALJ gave
“great weight” to the opinions of Drs. Gaffield
and Hale as they pertained to Plaintiff's functioning
prior to August 5, 2014. AR 23-24.
the ALJ omitted from Plaintiff's RFC that he would be
limited to walking or standing for four hours in an
eight-hour work day. Instead, the ALJ found Plaintiff could
perform “light work, ” as defined in 20 C.F.R.