United States District Court, W.D. Washington
RAMIRO H. COSIO, Plaintiff,
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
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
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Cosio applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on June 22, 2011, alleging that he became
disabled beginning April 1, 2002. 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.
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.
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.
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.
OF REVIEW AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
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
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).
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 ...