United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
MATTHEW N. C., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for
judicial review of Defendant's denial of his applications
for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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. 3.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
found Plaintiff experienced medical improvement beginning May
2, 2015. The ALJ also erred in his consideration of the March
2017 opinion of Terra Grandmason, ARNP. Had the ALJ properly
considered the medical evidence in finding Plaintiff had
medical improvement and properly considered Nurse
Grandmason's opinion, Plaintiff's disability status
may have continued or the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment beginning May 2, 2015 may have
changed. The ALJ's error is, therefore, not harmless, and
this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 22, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as June 21, 2012. See Dkt.
8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 33. The
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 33. A hearing was
held before ALJ Gene Duncan and, on November 21, 2014, ALJ
Duncan denied Plaintiff's applications for benefits.
See AR 33, 145-202, 367-89. The Appeals Council
vacated ALJ Duncan's decision and remanded the case to
ALJ Allen Erickson for further proceedings. See AR
33, 390-95. ALJ Erickson held a hearing on June 8, 2017.
See AR 256-316. On September 7, 2017, ALJ Erickson
issued a decision finding Plaintiff disabled from June 21,
2012 through May 1, 2015. AR 33-46. ALJ Erickson, however,
found that, as of May 2, 2015, Plaintiff experienced medical
improvement and was no longer disabled. AR 46-53.
Plaintiff's request for review of ALJ Erickson's
decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making ALJ
Erickson's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
issue in this case is whether the ALJ erred in determining
Plaintiff experienced medical improvement as of May 2, 2015,
and is no longer disabled. See Dkt. 10. In finding
Plaintiff was no longer disabled, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ
failed to properly (1) establish medical improvement; (2)
consider the opinion of Terra Grandmason, ARNP; and (3)
consider Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.
Id. Plaintiff requests remand for an award of
benefits. Id. at p. 12.
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 properly established Plaintiff had medical
improvement and was no longer
alleges the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff had medical
improvement as of May 2, 2015, and was no longer disabled.
Dkt. 10. “Once a claimant has been found to be
disabled, ... a presumption of continuing disability arises
in her favor.” Bellamy v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 755 F.2d 1380, 1381 (9th Cir. 1985). The
Commissioner “bears the burden of producing evidence
sufficient to rebut this presumption of continuing
disability.” Id. To meet that burden, the
Commissioner “must determine if there has been any
medical improvement in [the claimant's] impairment(s)
and, if so, whether this medical improvement is related to
[the claimant's] ability to work.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594, § 416.994.
improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of [the
claimant's] impairment(s), which was present at the time
of the most recent favorable medical decision that [the
claimant was] disabled.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(1), § 416.994(b)(1). “A determination
that there has been a decrease in medical severity must be
based on changes (improvement) in the symptoms, signs and/or
laboratory findings associated with [the claimant's]
impairment(s).” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1), §
416.994(b)(1). Medical improvement is related to a
claimant's ability to work if there is “an increase
in [the claimant's] functional capacity to do basic work
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(3), §
416.994(b)(3); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(4)(i), § 416.994(b)(4)(i).