United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
MARY A. MEEKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Mary A. Meeker 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. 22.
considering the record, the Court cannot determine whether
the decision by the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) is supported by substantial evidence
because an opinion from Plaintiff's treating therapist
may have been omitted from the administrative record. Had the
ALJ 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
7, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB,
alleging disability as of December 31, 2009. See Dkt.
8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 19. The
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 19. ALJ Robert P.
Kingsley held a hearing on August 25, 2015. AR 52-89. In a
decision dated October 14, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
to be not disabled. AR 19-34. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) failing to consider an opinion by Steve Adams,
Plaintiff's treating therapist and case manager; (2) not
giving specific and legitimate reasons to reject the medical
opinion of examining physician, Dr. Loren W. McCollom, Ph.D.;
(3) failing to find Plaintiff's bipolar disorder was a
severe impairment at Step Two; (4) not providing germane
reasons to reject three lay witness statements; (5) not
giving clear and convincing reasons to discredit
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; (6) failing to
include limitations in Plaintiff's RFC reflecting side
effects from her medications; and (7) finding Plaintiff could
perform occupations requiring frequent or constant reaching,
and frequent or constant handling, despite the ALJ's
decision to give great weight to a physician who found
Plaintiff would “seldom” reach and
“occasionally” handle. Dkt. 10.
reviewing the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court discovered the administrative record did
not contain Mr. Adams' opinion, although Plaintiff
attached it as an Exhibit to her Opening Briefing.
See Dkt. 10-1. Therefore, on October 31, 2017, the
Court ordered supplemental briefing, directing the parties to
address whether remand pursuant to Sentence Four or Sentence
Six would be appropriate if the case was remanded in light of
Mr. Adams' opinion. See Dkt. 20. Plaintiff and
Defendant provided supplemental briefing. See Dkt.
21, 26. The matter became ready for the Court's
consideration on December 5, 2017.
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 administrative record permits meaningful judicial
argues the ALJ erred by failing to address opinion evidence
from Plaintiff's therapist and case manager, Mr. Adams,
which she says she submitted multiple times to the Social
Security Administration (“Administration”). Dkt.
10, pp. 4-6; see also Dkt. 21, pp. 2-4.
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) allows the court “to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.” When the Appeals
Council declines to review a case, the ALJ's decision
becomes the final decision of the Commissioner, and the
district court reviews the ALJ's decision “for
substantial evidence, based on the record as a whole.”
Brewes v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d
1157, 1161-62 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999)). Hence,
meaningful judicial review “requires access to the
facts and reasons supporting that decision.” Bray
v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1226 (9th
Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). As such, the court can
“remand a case for further consideration if [it is]
unable to exercise meaningful or informed judicial review
because of an inadequate administrative record.”
Hill v. Astrue, 526 F.Supp.2d 1223, 1228 (D. Kan.
2007) (citing Harrison v. PPG Industries, Inc., 446
U.S. 578, 594 (1980)).
a court does not remand a case in order to make
“ministerial correction[s]” to the record.
Edwards v. Astrue, 2010 WL 2787847, at *3 (D. Kan.
2010). Instead, “[t]he touchstone is whether the
administrative record that does exist permits meaningful
review.” Id. at *4. A court may, for example,
remand a case when documents are missing from the
administrative record. See Podgorney v. Barnhart,
214 Fed.Appx. 648, 649-50 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Hoth
v. Berryhill, 680 Fed.Appx. 616, 617 (9th Cir. 2017)
(ALJ erred by proceeding without medical records he knew were
missing from the administrative record); Gasparyan v.
Astrue, 378 Fed.Appx. 644, ...