Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Villa v. Berryhill

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

June 26, 2018

TAMMY S. VILLA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.



         Plaintiff 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).


         Plaintiff 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.

         On 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         In 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.

         Plaintiff 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.[1]

         On 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.


         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 1177.
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.[3] 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. § 405(g).


         Standard of Review

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision de novo under a “substantial evidence” standard. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal:

         1. Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons to reject Dr. Heilbrunn's opinions

         Dr. 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.