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Clark v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 5, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          J. Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge.

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 (see also Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 3). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 8, 12, 13.

         Plaintiff was working as a para-educator in a classroom with special needs students. One of these students assaulted her on multiple occasions over a period of weeks, and, during the last incident, the student struck plaintiff, knocked her to the ground, struck her multiple times, put his hands under her shirt, and left her with significant injuries, including facial contusions, multiple areas of neck/back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). See AR. 866-67 (CM/ECF docket p. 877-78). After this incident, plaintiff began having nightmares and would wake up frightened and feeling awful, three or four times a week, which has since reduced to about twice a month. AR. 741 (CM/ECF docket p. 752). Plaintiff developed problems with anxiety, and for a period of about six months almost never left home, as “being around other people tended to be highly anxiety-provoking, and she describe[d] being easily startled.” See id.

         Plaintiff has flashbacks of the assault, occasionally triggered by depictions of violence on television or by images reminding her of the attacking student. Although plaintiff attempted to return to work, “being around students was so anxiety provoking that she was unable even to leave her vehicle.” Id. Plaintiff “eventually wound up returning to a volunteer position where she works with an older [female] student in a library, where she feels secure.” Id.

         Multiple doctors opined that plaintiff would not be able to return to competitive full-time work, however the ALJ failed to credit fully these doctors' opinions. Although defendant concedes that the ALJ erred when failing to credit fully these doctors' opinions, defendant does not concede that this matter should be reversed and remanded with a direction to award benefits, as requested by plaintiff.

         Although it is true that if the Court were to credit in full some of the doctors' opinions plaintiff would be deemed disabled, it is not the job of the Court to resolve conflicts within the medical evidence. Defendant's argument that there is some doubt as to whether or not plaintiff is in fact disabled is persuasive. Therefore, this matter is reversed and remanded to the Administration for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff, THERESA ANNE CLARK, was born in 1953 and was 56 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of September 15, 2009. See AR. 336-42. Plaintiff has work experience as a para-educator. AR. 360. Plaintiff did not return to work after she was assaulted by a student. AR. 867.

         According to the ALJ, through the date last insured, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “back/neck disorder, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety disorder (20 CFR § 404.1520(c)).” AR. 13.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in the family home with her husband and adult daughter. AR. 38, 91.


         Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 141-55, 157-73. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Wayne N. Araki (“the ALJ”) on May 20, 2014. See AR. 33-86. On July 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 174-94. The Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ for further consider and on May 19, 2016 another hearing was conducted. See AR. 87-118. On September 26, 2016, the ALJ issued a second written decision in which he again concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. See AR. 7-32.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises multiple issues: (1) Did the ALJ err by improperly rejecting multiple consistent medical opinions and “cherry picking” evidence contained in other psychological reports; (2) Did the ALJ consider all of plaintiff's limitations and the evidence when assessing plaintiff's RFC; and (3) Should the ALJ be ordered to reconsider reopening the prior application for “good cause”. See Dkt. 8, p. 1.

         Defendant requests that the Court remand this matter for further proceedings. See Dkt. 12, p. 1. Plaintiff requests a ...

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