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McMath v. Berryhill

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

February 26, 2018

MARILYN McMATH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          RONALD B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Marilyn McMath seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. She contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in (1) failing to find schizophrenia to be a severe impairment at step two, (2) failing to consider whether she meets or equals Listing 12.03 at step three, (3) assessing various medical opinions, and (4) failing to account for all credited limitations in the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment and hypothetical to the vocational expert (“VE”). Dkt. 15 at 1. As discussed 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. McMath is currently 58 years old, has training as a secretary and three years of college education, and has worked as an administrative assistant, retail assistant manager, foreclosure assistant, and retail sales associate. Tr. 3, 191, 203. In June 2012, she applied for benefits, alleging disability as of December 10, 2011. Tr. 176-80. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 107-13, 115-19. The ALJ conducted a hearing on July 2, 2013 (Tr. 30-73), and subsequently found Ms. McMath not disabled. Tr. 15-25. The Appeals Council denied Ms. McMath's request for review. Tr. 1-4.

         Ms. McMath sought judicial review, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the parties' stipulation to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand the case for further administrative proceedings. Tr. 510-11. The ALJ held another hearing on December 29, 2015 (Tr. 441-83), and subsequently found Ms. McMath not disabled. Tr. 421-34. As the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 408-13.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

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

Step one: Ms. McMath had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between the time of her alleged onset and her date last insured (“DLI”).
Step two: Ms. McMath's severe impairments include degenerative disc disease, obesity, anxiety, and “depression with schizophrenia.”
Step three: These impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment, specifically Listings 1.00B2b, 12.04, or 12.06.[2]
RFC: Ms. McMath can perform light work with additional limitations: she can frequently climb ramps and stairs, and stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. She can reach overhead frequently. She can perform simple, routine tasks and make simple work decisions, with customary breaks and lunch. She can occasionally interact with the public for work tasks, and have superficial contact with co-workers. She can work in a “low stress” environment “defined as only occasional changes in the work environment.” Her work should emphasize duties dealing with things/objects rather than people. She would be off-task up to 10% over the course of an eight-hour workday.
Step four: Ms. McMath could not perform her past work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. McMath can perform, ...

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