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Koen v. Berryhill

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

June 20, 2018

JAMES R. KOEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security 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 Consent to Proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 2). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 11, 12, 13.

         Examining psychologist Dr. Kay Stradinger, Psy.D. diagnosed plaintiff with alcohol dependence, history of methamphetamine dependence, unspecified depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. AR. 410. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) gave little weight to Dr. Stradinger's opinion that plaintiff has moderate impairments in performing detailed and complex tasks, interacting with supervisors and coworkers, maintaining regular attendance in the workplace, completing a normal workday/workweek without interruptions from a psychiatric condition, and dealing with usual stress encountered in the workplace. AR. 24, 30, 411.

         However, the ALJ erred in finding that Dr. Stradinger's opinion was not consistent with her findings and the overall treatment record. Moreover, the ALJ's finding that Dr. Stradinger's report is based largely on plaintiff's self-reports is not supported by substantial evidence. This error is not harmless, because a reasonable ALJ, when fully crediting Dr. Stradinger's opinion, may have included additional limitations in the RFC, and could have reached a different disability determination.

         Therefore, this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, JAMES R. KOEN, was born in 1969 and was 43 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of July 1, 2013. See AR. 194-200, 201-09. Plaintiff completed the 11th grade and later obtained his GED. AR. 48. Plaintiff has some work history, doing construction, line production, meat cutting and manual labor. AR. 48-54, 267-68.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “congestive heart failure and polysubstance abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 22.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in his van. AR. 62.

         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 were denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 86, 93, 100, 116. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before ALJ Richard Geib on December 16, 2015. See AR. 41-85. On February 12, 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. 17-40.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence; (2) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff's testimony; (3) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the lay evidence; and (4) Whether the ALJ properly assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and erred by basing his step four and five findings on his erroneous RFC assessment. See Dkt. 11 at 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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