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Griffus v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 21, 2018

CHRISTOPHER GRIFFUS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          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. 2). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 10, 14, 15.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred when failing to credit fully plaintiff's credibility and testimony. Although plaintiff made some minor inconsistent statements about his alcohol use, neither the ALJ nor defendant explained the relevance of these statements to the assessment of limitations resulting from plaintiff's asthma and back pain. The ALJ also relied on plaintiff's activities of daily living, yet failed to identify any specific contradiction between these activities and plaintiff's other testimony.

         Because the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for failing to credit fully plaintiff's testimony, 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.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, CHRISTOPHER GRIFFUS, was born in 1964 and was 49 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of February 16, 2014. See AR. 158-64. Plaintiff completed high school, but was unsuccessful in his community college classes and dropped out. AR. 46-48. Plaintiff has work history as a warehouse worker and driver. AR. 526-37. He left his last employment when he was physically hurting and sick and his doctor suggested he find something else. AR. 50.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “degenerative joint disease in the left hip, degenerative disc disease, asthma, bipolar disorder/major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, pain disorder with both psychological factors and a general medical condition, and alcohol dependence (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 20.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was staying with his brother sometimes and living apart from his wife of 30 years. AR. 47.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         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. 103-05, 110-11. Plaintiff's subsequent application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act (AR. 174-78) was accepted by Administrative Law Judge Irene Sloan (“the ALJ”) and treated as a concurrent application at plaintiff's requested hearing held on December 21, 2015. See AR. 41-77. On June 22, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 15-34.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) The ALJ erred in her consideration of plaintiff's allegations; (2) the ALJ erred in her weighing of the medical opinions; and (3) the ALJ erred in her weighing of the lay witness statement. See Dkt. 10, 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 ...


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