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Byers v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

January 11, 2018

TINA M. BYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Tina M. Byers seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Ms. Byers contends the ALJ erroneously evaluated (1) the opinions of three doctors and (2) her own testimony. Dkt. 14. For the reasons below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. Byers applied for benefits on October 21, 2009, alleging disability as of January 1, 2000. Tr. 388. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and by an ALJ in a decision dated April 21, 2011. Id. On appeal to this court, the court found that the ALJ had erred in evaluating the opinion of examining psychologist Jamie E. Carter, Ph.D., and the lay witness statement from Ms. Byers' mother, Mary Burke. Tr. 570; Docket No. 3:12-cv-5679 (W.D. Wash.), Dkt. 14 at 2-3. On remand from the district court, ALJ Cheri Filion found Ms. Byers not disabled in a decision dated June 10, 2014. Tr. 586-600. The Appeals Council reversed ALJ Filion's decision and remanded the matter to a third ALJ, M.J. Adams, who issued a decision on November 1, 2016, finding Ms. Byers not disabled. Tr. 579, 388-398. Because the Appeals Council did not accept review of ALJ Adams' decision, the 2016 decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Using the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] ALJ Adams found:

Step one: Ms. Byers has not worked since October 21, 2009, the application date.
Step two: Chronic lumbar spine facet arthropathy, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, schizoaffective disorder, affective disorders variously diagnosed as mood disorder and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders variously diagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety not otherwise specified (NOS), borderline personality disorder, and a history of methamphetamine abuse (in remission since August 2009) with ongoing cannabis abuse are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Byers can perform light work, avoiding operation of machinery if drowsy; perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions; do work that needs little or no judgment; perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in less than 30 days; respond appropriately to supervision, but should not be required to work in close coordination with coworkers where teamwork is required; deal with occasional changes in the work environment; do work that requires no contact with the general public.
Step four: Ms. Byers has no past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Byers can perform, she is not disabled.

Tr. 390-398.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         A. Medical Evidence

         The ALJ must provide “clear and convincing reasons” to reject the uncontradicted opinion of an examining doctor. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830, 831 (9th Cir. 1996). When contradicted, an examining doctor's opinion may not be rejected without “specific and legitimate reasons” that are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Id.

         Ms. Byers contends the ALJ misevaluated the opinions of state agency medical consultant Matthew Comrie, Psy.D., and examining doctors Jamie E. Carter, Ph.D., and John Nance, Ph.D.

         1. Matthew Comrie, Psy.D.

         Dr. Comrie opined Ms. Byers is “[m]oderately [l]imited” in her “ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them” and her “ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.” Tr. 263-64. Dr. Comrie's functional capacity assessment states Ms. Byers “should minimize contact with the general public and large ...


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