United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
KATRINA R. MENZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
Richard Creatura, United States Magistrate Judge
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13
(see also Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S.
Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, Dkt. 6; Consent to Proceed
Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 7). This matter
has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 14, 20, 21.
considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes
that the ALJ erred when evaluating the medical evidence
offered by examining doctor, Dr. Jennifer Irwin, M.D., and
erred when failing to develop the record regarding this
opinion. Simply because plaintiff is able to maintain her
household work of cooking and cleaning in the presence of
psychosocial situational stressors does not demonstrate that
plaintiff does not have marked limitation in her ability to
deal with the usual stress encountered in a competitive
workplace, even in the absence of substance use.
this matter should be reversed and remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting
Commissioner for further consideration consistent with this
KATRINA R. MENZ, was born in 1966 and was 23 years old on the
alleged date of disability onset of August 27, 1989.
See AR. 343-52. Plaintiff did not complete high
school, but has obtained her GED. AR. 96. Plaintiff has some
work experience as a maid, waitress and bartender. AR.
to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of
“polysubstance abuse (marijuana, alcohol, and
methamphetamine); substance induced mood disorder versus
depressive features versus major depressive disorder;
antisocial personality disorder; and learning disorder not
otherwise specified, status post head injury (20 CFR
416.920(c)).” AR. 17.
time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband
and 22-year old daughter in a doublewide trailer. AR. 95.
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act was denied
initially and following reconsideration. See AR.
141, 152. Plaintiff's first requested hearing was held
before Administrative Law Judge Rebekah Ross on April 4, 2014
(AR. 47-78) who issued a decision finding plaintiff not
disabled on May 1, 2014 (AR. 163-80). Following a request for
reconsideration, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and
remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings
(AR. 181-86). The Appeals Council expressly instructed the
ALJ assigned to the matter following remand to
“reconsider the opinion of Dr. Irwin (3F) by
re-contacting Dr. Irwin for clarification and/or submitting
the claimant for an updated evaluation, ” among other
tasks. AR. 13.
appeared at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joanne
E. Dantonio (“the ALJ”) on February 22, 2016.
See AR. 89-140. On July 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a
written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
was disabled when substance abuse was considered but, if
plaintiff stopped the substance abuse, she would not be
disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See
AR. 10-46. The ALJ declined to re-contact Dr. Irwin, and
decided that the written decision could be issued without an
additional consultative examination because the ALJ found
that “Dr. Irwin's opinion [is] clear on its
face.” AR. 14.
plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following
issues: (1) Whether the ALJ erred by failing to fully and
fairly develop the record; (2) Whether the ALJ properly
evaluated the medical evidence; (3) Whether the ALJ properly
evaluated plaintiff's testimony; (4) Whether the ALJ
properly evaluated the lay evidence; and (5) Whether the ALJ
properly assessed plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) in the absence of substance use,
and erred by basing her step five finding on her erroneous
RFC assessment. See Dkt. 14, p. 1.
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 ...