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Suzie F. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2019

SUZIE F., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DENIAL OF BENEFITS

          James L. Robart United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Suzie F. seeks review of the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 3).) Plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred in (1) discounting Plaintiff's testimony, (2) discounting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating primary care physician and neurologist, (3) discounting the opinions of an examining neuropsychologist, (4) rejecting or failing to address multiple lay witness statements, and (5) assessing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. # 11) at 1.) As discussed below, the court REVERSES the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) and REMANDS the matter for an award of benefits.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found:

Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 15, 2014, the alleged onset date. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-76.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: Multiple sclerosis (“MS”) with residual effects. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
Step three: Plaintiff 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.
Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except that she can frequently use her upper extremities to reach, handle, and finger. She can occasionally stoop, squat, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps and stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can perform unskilled, repetitive, routine tasks in two-hour increments. She can be expected to be absent from work up to eight days a year and be off-task up to eight percent of the time while still meeting the minimum production requirements of her job.
Step four: Plaintiff cannot perform any past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565.
Step five: Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a).

(Admin. Record (“AR”) (Dkt. # 8) at 17-28.) The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act (“Act”), from September 15, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 28.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (See Id. at 1-4.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff, as the claimant, bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may set aside a denial of social security benefits only when 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). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Although the court is required to examine the entire record, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A. The ALJ Harmfully Erred in Discounting ...


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