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Krzmarzick v. Berryhill

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

January 23, 2018

LISA M KRZMARZICK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          J. Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge.

         This 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. 3; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 6). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 11, 15, 16.

         Plaintiff was working as a janitor, cleaning a vent, when she tore the medial meniscus in her left knee. AR. 622. Examining physician Dr. Floyd Sekeramayi, M.D., diagnosed plaintiff with a chronic left knee medial meniscus tear, and found that the diagnosis is severely limiting. AR. 715. With respect to plaintiff's ability to sit, walk, and/or stand, Dr. Sekeramayi opined that plaintiff's “maximum standing/walking capacity is at least two hours. . . .” AR. 715.

         The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) characterized this evidence as consistent with light work. AR. 40. However, the ambiguity of Dr. Sekeramayi's opinion with respect to plaintiff's maximum and minimum ability to walk and/or stand triggered the ALJ's duty to conduct an appropriate inquiry and allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. Moreover, to the extent that the ALJ rejected this portion of Dr. Sekeramayi's opinion, the ALJ failed to provide a specific and legitimate reason supported by substantial evidence. This error is not harmless, as it calls into question the ALJ's reliance on Dr. Sekeramayi's opinion in finding that plaintiff is capable of performing light work.

         Therefore, for the reason stated and based on the record as a whole, Court concludes that this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, LISA M. KRZMARZICK, was born in 1965 and was 48 years old on the amended alleged date of disability onset of June 25, 2013. See AR. 59, 273-79. Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed a couple of years of college. AR. 61. Plaintiff has work experience as a custodian/janitor, childcare worker, housekeeper and laundry aide. AR. 364-75. She left her last employment when she was injured on the job. AR. 64-65.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “Chronic left knee abnormality, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, left foot abnormalities, right radiculopathy, and bipolar disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” AR. 27.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with her husband. AR. 62-63.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 156-58, 165-68. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before ALJ David Johnson on November 3, 2015. See AR. 55-87. On December 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 22-54.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to reject Dr. Sekeramayi's opinion; (2) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to reject Dr. Kawasaki's opinion; (3) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to reject the lay evidence; (4) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to reject plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; (5) Whether in light of these errors, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”), hypothetical questions, and step five finding remain supported by substantial evidence. See Dkt. 11 at 1.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant 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 ...


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