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Hamilton v. Berryhill

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

June 13, 2018

ALEX HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge

         Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by discounting his testimony and the lay testimony of his wife, and failing to account for all the limitations in a medical opinion to which the ALJ gave great weight. Dkt. 11. As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 30 years old, has a high school education, and has worked as an auto mechanic in the military. Tr. 39. In June 2015, plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of May 6, 2015. Tr. 25. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 25. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on August 9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 25-41.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of May 6, 2015.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, mild bulge at ¶ 4-L5 with lumbar radiculopathy, small disc protrusion at ¶ 6-C7, status post tendon tear to the right ankle, and headaches.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2]
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work, except he can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and frequently stoop, crouch, or climb ramps or stairs. He can perform simple, routine tasks with a reasoning level of 1 or 2. He can have no public contact and only occasional superficial contact with coworkers. He should avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, he is not disabled.

Tr. 27-40. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         While there is no dispute that plaintiff has several physical and mental impairments, the only issues under review here concern mental impairments. Plaintiff argues that his testimony and his wife's statements establish that he needs to take irregular breaks during the day to rest because his nighttime sleep is severely disrupted by night sweats, night terrors, and nightmares, and that he has irregular anger outbursts. Dkt. 11 at 4-5. Plaintiff also contends that medical opinions establish that his RFC must include limitations on interacting with supervisors and on routine changes and stressful situations. Dkt. 11 at 10.

         A. Examining Medical Source M. ...


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