United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
maintains the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific,
clear, and convincing reasons for discounting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 8, p. 1.
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 provided specific, clear, and convincing
reasons for finding Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony not fully supported.
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
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
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.
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 ...