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Pressley v. Berryhill

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

July 16, 2018





         Plaintiff Georgea L. Pressley seeks review of the denial of her application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. (See Complaint (Dkt. # 1).) Ms. Pressley contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by (1) failing to find her degenerative joint disease of the knees a severe impairment at step two of the disability evaluation process; (2) improperly rejecting the opinions of Monica Carillo, M.D. regarding standing and walking limitations, as well as knee pain and limitations; (3) improperly rejecting Ms. Pressley's testimony at her most recent hearing[1]; and (4) incorrectly assessing Ms. Pressley's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and ability to perform past work. (PL Op. Br. at 1, 12.) As discussed below, the court AFFIRMS the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the "Commissioner") and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.


         A. Procedural History

         This is the third time this case is before the court. Ms. Pressley originally filed for disability benefits on October 17, 2007, alleging that her disability began on February 1, 2006. (See Admin. Record ("AR") (Dkt. # 9) at 68-69, 145.) Her claims were denied initially and on reconsideration in 2008. (Id. at 68-71.) ALJ John Bauer conducted a hearing on January 14, 2010. (Id. at 29.) On February 18, 2010, ALJ Bauer issued a decision denying Ms. Pressley benefits. (Id. at 22.) The Appeals Council denied review. (Id. at 1-5.)

         On August 16, 2011, Chief Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida issued a report and recommendation ("R&R") reversing ALJ Bauer's decision and remanding the matter with directions to the ALJ to reassess Ms. Pressley's severe impairments; reassess the medical opinions of Dr. Monica Carillo, M.D., Dr. Susan Hakeman, M.D., and the state agency medical consultants; reevaluate Ms. Pressley's credibility; and redo the five-step disability evaluation process as necessary. (Id. at 682-98.)[2] Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez adopted the R&R on September 23, 2011. (Id. at 68l.)[3]

         Following remand, ALJ Larry Kennedy conducted a hearing on May 9, 2012. (Id. at 564.) On August 29, 2012, ALJ Kennedy issued a decision once again denying Ms. Pressley benefits. (Id. at 550.)

         On July 15, 2014, Judge Marsha Pechman issued an order, based on an R&R from Magistrate Judge Tsuchida, once again reversing the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 1484-1504.)[4]This time, the court held that the ALJ erred (1) in failing to discuss whether Ms. Pressley's knee arthritis was a severe impairment at step two; and (2) in failing to discuss Dr. Carillo's January 2012 opinion. (Id. at 1488-91, 1500-01.) But the court determined that the ALJ did not err (1) in finding that Ms. Pressley's hand impairment was not a severe impairment at step two; (2) in finding that Ms. Pressley was not fully credible; (3) in rejecting Dr. Carillo's January 2010 and 2011 opinions; and (4) in rejecting Dr. Hakeman's opinions. (Id. at 1488-1503.) The court ordered the ALJ on remand to "consider whether Ms. Pressley has a severe impairment of degenerative joint disease affecting her knees, reevaluate Dr. Carillo's January 11, 2012 report... and, as necessary, reevaluate the medical opinion evidence of record." (Id. at 1503.)

         ALJ Kennedy conducted the most recent hearing on June 8, 2015. (Id. at 1363.) On February 3, 2016, ALJ Kennedy issued a decision again denying Ms. Pressley benefits. (Id. at 1348.)

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [5] the ALJ found:

         Step one: Ms. Pressley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2006, the alleged onset date.

         Step two: Ms. Pressley has the following severe impairments: lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; obesity; mild degenerative changes of the left hand; hypertension; hyperthyroidism; reactive depression; and anxiety disorder.

         Step three: Ms, Pressley does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.925 and 416.926.

         Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Pressley can perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel and crouch; never climb scaffolds, ropes, ladders, ramps, or stairs; and can never crawl. She is able to perform frequent fingering with the left hand. She must avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards such as unenclosed and unprotected heights. She can perform simple, routine tasks, and follow short, simple instructions, and can do work that involves little or no judgment. She has an average ability to perform sustained work activities within customary tolerances regarding sick leave and absences. She can have occasional interactions with coworkers and supervisors, but not in a cooperative or team effort. She can have incidental contact only with the general public.

         Step four: Ms. Pressley is capable of performing past relevant work as a housekeeper. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by her residual functional capacity.

(AR at 1334-48.) Ms. Pressley filed written exceptions to the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council. (Id. at 1322-28.) The Appeals Council declined jurisdiction on October 24, 2016, rendering ALJ ...

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