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Henry v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2018

CHRISTINA SUE HENRY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Christina Sue Henry filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her application for 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. 3.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons for discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Had the ALJ given great weight to Plaintiff's subjective symptoms, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless, and this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of September 30, 2013. See Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (“AR”) 13. The application was denied on initial administrative review and reconsideration. See AR 13. A hearing was held before ALJ Laura Valente on July 5, 2016. See AR 27-56. In a decision dated September 6, 2016, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. See AR 13-22. 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 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons for discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 8, p. 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 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ provided specific, clear, and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony not fully supported.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony not fully supported. Dkt. 8. To reject a claimant's subjective complaints, the ALJ must provide “specific, cogent reasons for the disbelief.” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). The ALJ “must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.” Id.; Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993). Unless affirmative evidence shows the claimant is malingering, the ALJ's reasons for rejecting the claimant's testimony must be “clear and convincing.” Lester, 81 F.2d at 834. Questions of credibility are solely within the control of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court should not “second-guess” this credibility determination. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 580 (9th Cir. 1984). In addition, the Court may not reverse a credibility determination where that determination is based on contradictory or ambiguous evidence. Id. at 579.[1]

         Plaintiff testified she cannot work because of pain, fatigue, and anxiety. See AR 44, 46, 49-50. Plaintiff's mother helps her with shopping and some housework. AR 38. However, Plaintiff can shop alone once a week, cook, do laundry, and do the dishes. AR 38-39. Plaintiff enjoys spending time with her grandsons and, when she is able, crafting and gardening. AR 41. At most, Plaintiff can stand for fifteen minutes before needing to sit down, and she often uses a walker and a brace for her knee pain. AR 45-46, 50. Plaintiff also avoids leaving her home due to her anxiety. AR 44.

         In her Function Report-Adult, Plaintiff stated that her vitamin B12 deficiency and chronic pain make it difficult for her to stand, sit, and walk. AR 203. She has difficulties with her personal care. AR 204. She can walk a block or two before needing to stop and rest. AR 208. Plaintiff also states her impairments limit her ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, climb stairs, see, complete tasks, concentrate, follow instructions, use her hands, and remember. AR 208.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” AR 18. She determined Plaintiff's complaints were not fully supported because (1) there were no medical opinions supporting Plaintiff's complaints; (2) Plaintiff has not had to take prescription pain medication; (3) Plaintiff's mental health allegations are inconsistent throughout the record; (4) Plaintiff's daily activities are ...


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