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Greg B. v. Berryhill

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

April 16, 2019

GREG B., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          THERESA L. FRICKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 24, 2014, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (AR) 18. He alleges his disability began on March 6, 2014. Id. The Commissioner denied the application on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id.

         Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) employed the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process to find that plaintiff could perform his past work as an electrical engineer at step four of that process, and therefore that he was not disabled. AR 18-36.

         Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless it is: (1) based on legal error; or (2) not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id.; Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir. 2017).

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and for resolving any conflicts or ambiguities in the record. Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, the Court must uphold the ALJ's interpretation. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674-75. That is, where the evidence is sufficient to support more than one outcome, the Court must uphold the decision the ALJ made. Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1165 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court also must weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support the ALJ's conclusion. Id.

         The Court may not affirm the ALJ's decision by locating a quantum of supporting evidence and ignoring non-supporting evidence. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court also may not affirm for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010. Rather, only the reasons the ALJ identified are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.

         ISSUES FOR REVIEW

(1) Did the ALJ fail to offer specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting plaintiff's treating physician's opinion?
(2) Did the ALJ fail to offer clear and convincing reasons for discounting plaintiff's allegations concerning the severity and limiting effects of his impairments?
(3) Did the ALJ fail to o germane reasons for rejecting the observations of plaintiff's spouse?

         HOLDING

         After carefully considering each of the issues plaintiff has raised, along with the ALJ's decision and the administrative record, the Court holds the ALJ erred in discounting plaintiff's allegations and in rejecting the testimony of plaintiff's spouse. Due to those errors, the ALJ's decision is reversed. But because serious doubts ...


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