United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
TAMMY S. VILLA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.
ORDER ON SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL
HONORABLE MARSHA J. PECHMAN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT
Tammy Sue Villa seeks review of the denial of her application
for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by
1. Improperly rejecting Dr. Heilbrunn's opinions,
2. Improperly rejecting Dr. Dueber's opinion,
3. Improperly rejecting Dr. Wheeler's opinions,
4. Improperly rejecting Dr. Anderson's opinion, and
5. Improperly discrediting Plaintiff's testimony.
Dkt. No. 14. As discussed below, the Court
REVERSES the Commissioner's final
decision and REMANDS the matter for an award
of benefits under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
is currently 58 years old, has a limited education, and has
worked as an in-home caregiver and a grocery store clerk. Tr.
34. On August 20, 2007, Plaintiff applied for benefits,
alleging disability as of August 1, 2006. Tr. 99-101108.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 53-56, 57-59. After the ALJ (Dethloff)
conducted a hearing on December 9, 2009, the ALJ issued a
decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 10-27.
March 25, 2010, Plaintiff requested administrative review.
Tr. 6-7. On August 23, 2010, the Appeals Council declined
review, making the ALJ's decision a final decision of the
Commissioner appealable to this court. Tr. 1-5.
filed a complaint in this District (see Tammy Sue Villa
v. Michael Astrue, C10-5733-RBL), which resulted in a
stipulated remand for further proceedings. Tr. 477-80. The
Appeals Council issued an order for a remand hearing on June
27, 2011. Tr. 481-85.
September 20, 2012, a second ALJ (Kingsley) held a hearing at
which Plaintiff, a medical expert and a vocational expert
testified. Tr. 424-76. This ALJ also issued a finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 393-423. Plaintiff requested
a review of that decision (Tr. 392) and, on April 15, 2015,
the Appeals Council (after incorporating and considering
additional evidence) declined review. Tr. 371-77.
filed a second complaint in District Court (see Tammy Sue
Villa v. Carolyn Colvin, C15-5373-DWC; Tr. 1292-1302)
and, on December 18, 2015, the presiding judge issued an
order remanding the case for further proceedings. Tr.
1321-46. Meanwhile, Plaintiff had applied for and been
awarded benefits as of December 14, 2015.
March 9, 2016, the Appeals Council issued an order remanding
the matter for a redetermination of Plaintiff's request
for the closed period now at issue. Tr. 1347-51. On January
4, 2017, a third ALJ (Mauer) held a hearing with Plaintiff,
her attorney and a vocational expert in attendance. Tr.
1213-41. The ALJ issued her report on April 10, 2017, finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled for the closed period at
issue. Tr. 1171-1212.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: Right Shoulder Impingement, Lumbar Spine
Degenerative Disc Disease, Migraine Headaches, Depression;
and Anxiety. Tr. 1177
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 1178.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff
retained the following residual functional capacity (RFC):
Lift 20 pounds using both arms only occasionally, 10 pounds
frequently; sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours each; sit/stand
option twice per hour, but the position changes would not
interrupt tasks that can be performed in either position;
never reach overhead with the right arm, occasional firm
gripping with the right hand; never kneel, crawl or stoop;
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently climb
ramps and stairs; avoid workplace exposure to inhaled
irritants and cold temperatures; no public contact; no
teamwork assignments; and essentially R2 reasoning level
tasks characterized by common sense, detailed but uninvolved
written or oral instructions, a few concrete variables and
standardized situations. Tr. 1179-80.
Step four: Plaintiff had no past relevant
work. Tr. 1199.
Step five: The ALJ found that there were a
significant number of jobs that Plaintiff could perform in
the regional and national economies, as represented by the
following: Office Helper (DOT 239.567-010) R2 Light (18, 000
jobs nationally); Photocopy Machine Operator (DOT
207.675-014) R2 Light (20, 000 jobs nationally); and
Agricultural Sorter (DOT 529.687-186) Light SVP 2 (19, 000
jobs nationally). As these are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform,
Plaintiff was found to be not disabled. Plaintiff timely
filed her appeal of that decision to this court. 42 U.S.C.
Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision de
novo under a “substantial evidence”
standard. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
raises the following issues on appeal:
Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to
reject Dr. Heilbrunn's opinions
Heilbrunn, M.D., was an examining (as opposed to a treating)
physician who examined Plaintiff twice - in February 2012 and
September 2015. In the February 2012 exam, he reviewed
records and imaging, took Plaintiff's history and
conducted his own examination. Tr. 283-90. He diagnosed
Plaintiff with the following: Lumbar degenerative disc
disease, positive right straight leg raising; thoracic
kyphosis; right shoulder ...