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Cosio v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

December 11, 2017

RAMIRO H. COSIO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge

         Ramiro H. Cosio has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision denying benefits and remands for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Cosio applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on June 22, 2011, alleging that he became disabled beginning April 1, 2002.[1] Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (AR) 1974. That application was denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. Hearings were held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in August 2013 and February 2014. AR 34-53. The ALJ found that Mr. Cosio was not disabled. AR 16. In March 2016, however, this Court vacated that decision and remanded the case to the Social Security Administration. AR 2060.

         On remand, another hearing was held before an ALJ, on September 13, 2016. AR 1992-2023. Mr. Cosio and a vocational expert appeared and testified. Id. In a written decision on October 24, 2016, the ALJ found that Mr. Cosio could perform his past relevant work and therefore was not disabled. AR 1974-84. The Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction of the matter, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Mr. Cosio then appealed that decision in a complaint filed with this Court on February 2, 2017. Dkt. 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Mr. Cosio seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in considering the disability rating that Mr. Cosio received from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA);
(2) in evaluating the medical opinion evidence;
(3) in discounting Mr. Cosio's subjective testimony; and
(4) in rejecting the testimony of lay witnesses.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees that the ALJ erred by failing to take into account the empirical bases for Mr. Cosio's VA disability rating, by not giving proper legal weight to the VA's rating and reasons for the rating, and that the ALJ therefore committed legal Colvin, No. 3:14-CV-05885, 2015 WL 3477152, at *5 (W.D. Wash. June 2, 2015). Accordingly, the Court addresses April 1, 2002 as the start of the relevant period. error in assessing Mr. Cosio's RFC and finding him not disabled. Accordingly, the Court reverses the decision to deny benefits and remands this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         SCOPE OF REVIEW AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.520, 416.920. If the ALJ finds the claimant disabled or not disabled at any particular step, the ALJ makes the disability determination at that step and the sequential evaluation process ends. See id. Here, Mr. Cosio challenges the ALJ's analysis of the evidence in reaching an RFC assessment and finding Mr. Cosio not disabled at step five. Dkt. 11, pp. 1-2. At issue is the ALJ's weighing of Mr. Cosio's 80-percent disability rating from the VA, her weighing of different pieces of medical opinion evidence, her evaluation of Mr. Cosio's testimony and that of three lay witnesses, and the resulting assessment of Mr. Cosio's RFC and conclusion that he can perform jobs in the national economy. See AR 1978-84.

         This Court affirms an ALJ's determination that a claimant is not disabled if the ALJ applied “proper legal standards” in weighing the evidence and making the determination and if “substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports” that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere scintilla, '” though “‘less than a preponderance'” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).

         This Court will thus uphold the ALJ's findings if “inferences reasonably drawn from the record” support them. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, then this Court must uphold ...


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