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Novak v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 16, 2018

JOELLEN CHRISTINE NOVAK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          Marsha J. Pechman United States District Judge

         Joellen Christine Novak seeks review of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Dkt. 1. Ms. Novak contends the ALJ harmfully erred by partially rejecting the other source statements of Mareth Chromey, a licensed mental health Counselor (LMHC), and Davis Clowers, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Dkt. 9 at 1. As relief, Ms. Novak contends the Court should reverse the ALJ's decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

         The Commissioner disagrees and argues the ALJ provided valid reasons to discount the other sources' opinions, that “Plaintiff is simply asking for a different interpretation of the evidence within the record” and that the Court should therefore affirm the ALJ's decision finding Ms. Novak not disabled. Dkt. 10 at 7. As discussed below, the Court find the ALJ harmfully erred, REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1, the ALJ found:

Step one: Ms. Novak has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 15, 2012.
Step two: Cervical and back strain, left shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, status post left shoulder arthroscopic surgery, anxiety disorder, affective disorder and obesity are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1.
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Novak can perform medium work; she can occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; can frequently reach overhead bilaterally; can frequently handle, finger and feel with the left upper extremity (non-dominant hand); should not be required to drive as a job duty; should have only occasional brief, superficial interactions with the general public and coworkers; and can accept supervision.
Step four: Ms. Novak can perform past relevant work as a photocopy machine operator.
Step five: Alternatively, Ms. Novak can perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and is therefore not disabled.

         Tr. 19-29. The ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision because the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1. The rest of the procedural history is not essential in determining the outcome of the case and is thus not recounted.

         DISCUSSION

         Ms. Novak argues the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of Ms. Chromey, LMHC, and Mr. Clowers, PMHNP, who are treating medical “other sources.” Only licensed physicians and certain other qualified specialists are considered “[a]cceptable medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a). In contrast, nurse practitioners and counselors are defined as “other sources, ” and are not entitled to the same level of deference as acceptable medical sources. See Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012); and see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. However, the opinions and evidence from other sources are important and must be evaluated by the ALJ. See e.g. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1013-14 (9th Cir. 2014) (ALJ erred by failing to recognize ÔÇťother source that can provide evidence about ...


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