United States District Court, W.D. Washington
JEFFREY T. MCGRATH, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING DECISION AND REMANDING CASE
J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on review of the file herein.
History. On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed this
civil action, alleging that the Social Security
Administration improperly denied his application for
disability insurance when the ALJ: (1) failed to properly
consider the medical evidence, including the opinions of Jack
M. Litman, Ph.D., Amanda J. Ragonesi, Psy.D., Kristin Tand,
LMHC, Eugene Krebsbach, M.D., and others; (2) failed to
evaluate Plaintiff's testimony; (3) did not accurately
assess the lay evidence; (4) failed to properly determine
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); and (5) did not meet the burden of
showing that there were other jobs in the national economy
that Plaintiff could perform. Dkt. 13. Plaintiff argues that
the Court should reverse the ALJ's decision and award him
benefits. Id. The Commissioner concedes that the ALJ
did not properly consider all the medical evidence, and so
failed to properly assess Plaintiff's RFC or show that
Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. Dkt. 17. The Commissioner
asserts that the credibility determination and assessment of
“lay witness” testimony was not in error.
Id. She maintains that the case should be remanded
for further proceedings because there are conflicts in the
medical record that need to be resolved before a decision on
an award of benefits is possible. Id.
Data. Born in 1962, Plaintiff has prior work
experience as an injection molder, production operator, and
carpenter. Tr. 19. He has at least a high school education.
Decision. The ALJ found: (1) that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act; (2)
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 31, 2012, the amended alleged onset
date; (3) that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy, headaches, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (“COPD”), post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), and depression; that the impairments,
even in combination, did not qualify under the Listings; (4)
that the Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity:
. . . to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
and 416.967(b) with the following additional limitations: the
claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently. He can sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours each in
an 8 hour workday. The claimant can climb ladders and
scaffolds frequently. He should avoid dusts, fumes, gases. He
is limited to moderate noise levels. The claimant can perform
work involving simple, routine and repetitive tasks and
simple work-related decisions. He can interact with the
that he has no past relevant work; and lastly, (5) that
Plaintiff could perform other work existing in the national
economy, such as an assembler, produce sorter, and laundry
folder. Tr. 11-20. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Id.
Standard. The findings of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration are conclusive (42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g)), and the decision of the Commissioner to deny
benefits will be overturned only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or it is based on legal error.
Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th
asserts that this case should be remanded for an immediate
award of benefits (Dkts. 13 and 18) and the Commissioner
maintains it should be remanded for further proceedings (Dkt.
the ALJ denies benefits and the court finds error, the court
ordinarily must remand to the agency for further proceedings
before directing an award of benefits.” Leon v.
Berryhill, 880 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2017)(as
amended on January 25, 2018). Where an ALJ improperly
rejects a medical opinion or a claimant's pain testimony
as incredible “without providing legally sufficient
reasons, the reviewing court may grant a direct award of
benefits when certain conditions are met. The three-part
analysis for such conditions is known as the
“credit-as-true” rule.” Id.
the court considers whether “the ALJ has failed to
provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the
evidence, whether claimant testimony or medical
opinion.” Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
775 F.3d 1090, 1100-01 (9th Cir. 2014)(internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). Second, if the ALJ erred, the court
determines “whether there are outstanding issues that
must be resolved before a determination of disability can be
made and whether further administrative proceedings would be
useful.” Id., at 1101 (internal citations and quotation
marks omitted). Third, if no outstanding issues remain and
further proceedings would not be useful, the court may apply
the credit as true rule, “finding the relevant
testimony credible as a matter of law, ” and then
determine “whether the record, taken as a whole, leaves
not the slightest uncertainty as to the outcome of the
proceeding.” Id. (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted).
all three elements of the credit-as-true rule are satisfied,
a case raises the rare circumstances that allow a court to
exercise discretion to depart from the ordinary remand rule.
Treichler, at 1101. Even when those “rare
circumstances are present, the decision whether to remand a
case for additional evidence or simply to award benefits is
in [the court's] discretion.” Id., at
1101-02 (citing Harman v. Apfel, 211 F.3d at 1178
(holding that the exercise of authority to remand for
benefits “was intended to be discretionary and should
be reviewed for abuse of discretion”)).
One - Has the ALJ Failed to Properly Assess the Medical
Evidence, the Claimant'sTestimony, ...