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Baker v. Berryhill

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

July 12, 2018

DEBORAH L. BAKER, 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. 5). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 10, 14, 15.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes the ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's credibility. The ALJ rejected plaintiff's credibility because plaintiff made inconsistent statements regarding her past substance use, failed to seek treatment, and reported daily activities that undermined her reported limitations. The ALJ erred in her credibility analysis because she did not specify how plaintiff's past reports to providers conflicted with her testimony regarding her daily activities, nor evaluate whether plaintiff's daily activities met the threshold for transferrable work skills. The ALJ also erred because she did not provide clear and convincing reasons for her finding that plaintiff made inconsistent statements regarding her past substance use. Finally, the record does not support the ALJ's allegation that plaintiff failed to seek treatment for her conditions. This credibility determination was not harmless error because a more favorable credibility determination may have added additional limitations to plaintiff's residual functional capacity and resulted in a different disability determination.

         Accordingly, this Court orders that this matter be remanded in accordance with sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, DEBORAH LE ANN BAKER, was born in 1965 and was 47 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of December 23, 2013. See AR. 200-08. Plaintiff completed the ninth grade, obtained a GED and two Associate Degrees in college. AR. 51. Plaintiff has limited work experience in childcare, housekeeping, and other odd jobs. AR. 223-33. Plaintiff last worked in 2004. Id.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “status post gunshot wound to the left leg, left hip bursitis, obesity, psoriasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, hepatitis C, lower extremity numbness, major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), history of substance abuse, and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).” AR. 25.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in a duplex with her two dogs. AR. 65.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 122-31, 133-44. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Kelly Wilson (“the ALJ”) on October 7, 2015. See AR. 39-88. On January 29, 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. 19-38. The ALJ found insufficient cause to reopen a previous decision, which is now administratively final. See AR. 89-114, 115-20.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Whether the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record; (2) Whether the ALJ improperly applied the Chavez Acquiescence Ruling and res judicata; (3) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence; (4) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff's testimony; (5) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the lay evidence; and (6) Whether the ALJ properly assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and erred by basing her step five finding on her erroneous RFC assessment. See Dkt. 10, p. 2.

         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 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         This Court will address the dispositive issues first, then evaluate the remaining issues in light of the Court's decision to remand on the dispositive findings.

         I. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated ...


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