United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
April Marie Wentz, proceeding pro se, filed this
action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial
review of Defendant's denial of her applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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. 8.
considering the record, the Court concludes Plaintiff failed
to show the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
erred when she found Plaintiff had no physical impairments at
Step Two of the sequential evaluation process. The Court,
however, finds the ALJ erred when she failed to provide
specific, legitimate reasons supported by substantial
evidence for giving little weight to the opinion of Dr. Dana
Harmon, Ph.D. Had the ALJ given great weight to Dr.
Harmon's opinion, the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) may have included additional limitations
or the ALJ may have found Plaintiff disabled. The ALJ's
error is therefore harmful, 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
20, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI,
alleging disability as of January 8, 2012. See Dkt.
10, Administrative Record (“AR”) 27. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 27. A hearing was held
before ALJ Laura Valente on October 1, 2015. See AR
59-117. In a decision dated December 22, 2015, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 27-38.
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See
AR 8-13, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, it appears Plaintiff is arguing the ALJ erred
by: (1) failing to consider Plaintiff's severe
impairments at Step Two; (2) discounting Plaintiff's
activities of daily living when considering her subjective
symptom testimony; (3) improperly considering Dr. Dana
Harmon's opinion; (4) improperly discounting the lay
opinions; and (5) improperly relying on the vocational
expert's testimony. Dkt. 16. Plaintiff also contends the
ALJ failed to consider the opinion of “Dr. Yun,
Ph.D.” and asserts she has attached a copy of the
opinion for the Court's consideration.
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 ALJ erred at Step Two.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff states she suffers from
“several serious physical conditions, ” including
methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus
(“MRSA”) and polycystic ovary syndrome
(“PCOS”). Dkt. 16, p. 4. It appears Plaintiff is
alleging the ALJ erred by failing to find her MRSA and PCOS
disabling impairments at Step Two of the sequential
Two of the administration's evaluation process requires
the ALJ to determine whether the claimant “has a
medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273,
1290 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (1996). An
impairment is “not severe” if it does not
“significantly limit” the ability to conduct
basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a),
416.921(a). “Basic work activities are ‘abilities
and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs, including, for
example, walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing,
pulling, reaching, carrying or handling.'”
Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1290 (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§140.1521(b)). “An impairment or combination of
impairments can be found ‘not severe' only if the
evidence establishes a slight abnormality having ‘no
more than a minimal effect on an individual[']s ability
to work.'” Id. (quoting Yuckert v.
Bowen, 841 F.2d 303, 306 (9th Cir. 1988)
(adopting Social Security Ruling “SSR”
the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: organic mental disorder, affective disorder, and
anxiety disorder. AR 30. The ALJ did not find Plaintiff had
any severe physical impairments. See AR 30.
states she suffers from MRSA and PCOS. Dkt. 16, p. 4.
However, in her Opening Brief, Plaintiff fails to provide
record citations showing she has been diagnosed with MRSA and
PCOS or allege these two conditions cause significant
limitations in her ability to perform basic work activities.
See id. As Plaintiff failed to explain how these
impairments are severe or cite to any evidence supporting her
assertion, the Court finds Plaintiff has not shown the ALJ
erred at Step Two. See Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S.
396, 410 (2009) (finding the plaintiff has the burden of
demonstrating there are harmful errors in the ALJ's
Whether the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion ...