United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
SAMANTHA D. LLOYD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security Operations, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Samantha D. Lloyd filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of Plaintiff's application for supplemental security
income (“SSI”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR
13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by
the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide clear, and convincing reasons supported by
substantial evidence for discrediting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony. Had the ALJ properly considered
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony, he may have
included additional limitations in the RFC and in the
hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert. As the
ultimate disability determination may have changed, the
ALJ's error is not harmless, and this matter is reversed
and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to the Deputy Commissioner of Social Security
Operations (“Commissioner”) for further
proceedings consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
October 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging
disability as of July 21, 2005. See Dkt. 11,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 199-209. Plaintiff
later amended her alleged onset date to October 27, 2014, and
voluntarily dismissed her DIB claim. AR 21, 36-37, 210-211.
The application was denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 76-97, 110-121. A
hearing was held before ALJ Gary Elliott on April 13, 2016.
See AR 34-73. In a decision dated May 12, 2016, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR
18-33. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
See AR 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, §
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) improperly evaluating Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony; (2) improperly evaluating the
lay evidence; (3) improperly evaluating the medical evidence;
and (4) improperly evaluating the step five findings and
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). Dkt. 15 at 1.
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
Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony.
contends the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific, clear,
and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective
symptom testimony not fully supported. Dkt. 9. To reject a
claimant's subjective complaints, the ALJ must provide
“specific, cogent reasons for the disbelief.”
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1996)
(citation omitted). The ALJ “must identify what
testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the
claimant's complaints.” Id.; Dodrill
v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993). Unless
affirmative evidence shows the claimant is malingering, the
ALJ's reasons for rejecting the claimant's testimony
must be “clear and convincing.” Lester,
81 F.2d at 834. Questions of credibility are solely within
the control of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court should not
“second-guess” this credibility determination.
Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 580 (9th Cir. 1984).
In addition, the Court may not reverse a credibility
determination where the determination is based on
contradictory or ambiguous evidence. Id. at 579.
testified she cannot work due to her fibromyalgia, which
limits her ability to use her hands, bend, lift, and sit and
stand for long periods of time. AR 42-43. Plaintiff testified
she can only use her hands for 20 to 30 minutes at a time,
then they start to go numb and lock up, and she has to wait
half an hour before using them again. AR 43, 50. Plaintiff
testified she can stand for 15 to 20 minutes and sit for 30
minutes at a time. AR 42. Plaintiff testified she can walk
occasionally. AR 42. Plaintiff testified she can lift five to
ten pounds frequently, and has trouble lifting over 30
pounds. AR 42-43, 58. Plaintiff testified she attempts to do
most household chores, including cleaning the bathroom,
cooking simple meals, and doing the dishes, but if she
can't do a chore one day, she “hope[s] that
[she'll] be able to do it the next [day].” AR 53.
Plaintiff testified she can start a load of laundry by
putting it in the washer, but her husband has to help her
move the laundry to the dryer because bending over
exacerbates her back pain. AR 53-54. Plaintiff has two
children, ages and four and nine at the time of the hearing.
AR 53-54. Plaintiff testified if she drops something such as
a utensil in the kitchen, one of the children picks it up. AR
53-54. Plaintiff testified she has difficulty grasping and
gripping the steering wheel while driving can be difficult.
testified she doesn't take naps during the day, but she
tries to lie down to relax her muscles for about half an
hour. AR 53. Plaintiff testified her hand and back pain are
at a constant level of 6 to 7 all day. AR. 52 (On a scale of
one to ten, one being “really nothing” and ten
being “almost like going to the ER[.]”).
Plaintiff testified she has anxiety and depression caused by
her fibromyalgia and chronic illness. AR 59.
found Plaintiff's allegations were not fully supported
because they are inconsistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record. AR. 27. Specifically, the ALJ
found: (1) Plaintiff's testimony is inconsistent with her
daily activities; (2) Plaintiff was able to work in 2006,
2007, and 2009; (3) Plaintiff sought minimal
treatment; and (4) Plaintiff's testimony is
inconsistent the objective medical evidence. AR 25-27.
Defendant only contends two of these reasons are clear and
convincing and supported by the record, arguing
Plaintiff's part-time work history and ...