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Bax v. Berryhill

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

April 6, 2018

JOHN A. BAX, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for Operations, 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 Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S. Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, Dkt. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 6). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 13, 17, 18.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred when evaluating the medical evidence regarding plaintiff's post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). The ALJ found that one of the examining clinical psychologists had conducted “extensive testing, ” and had provided conclusions that are supported by such testing, as well as being supported by the doctor's "significant supporting explanations.” AR. 75. However, the ALJ singled out and failed to credit fully one particular opinion with a conclusory finding that the clinical psychologist's one opinion “substantially overstates the claimant's limitations in this area.” Id. The ALJ does not offer any reason as to why he believes that the clinical psychologist's opinion regarding this one particular limitation is a substantial overstatement of plaintiff's limitations. This is a legal error.

         Because this error is not harmless, as fully crediting it could lead a reasonable ALJ to a finding of disability, this matter is reversed and remanded to the Administration for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, JOHN A. BAX, was born in 1965 and was 37 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of September 1, 2002. See AR. 221-26, 227-33. Plaintiff has his GED and is certified in hazmat/bio-hazmat cleanup. AR. 89.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairment of “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 50.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living with a roommate. AR. 89.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) were denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 112, 113, 151, 152. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge S. Andrew Grace (“the ALJ”) on April 14, 2015. See AR. 85-111. On August 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Act. See AR. 45-84.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence; (2) plaintiff's testimony; (3) the lay evidence; (4) plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), past relevant work, and the steps four and five findings; and (5) Whether the new evidence submitted to the Appeals council shows that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and/or that it is based on legal error. See Dkt. 13, 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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