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Kamala S. B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 8, 2019

KAMALA S. B., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of her applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Mathews, Sec'y of H.E.W. v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Local Rule MJR 4(a)(4). For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the Court reverse defendant's decision to deny benefits and remand this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         The parties have fourteen (14) days from service of this Report and Recommendation to file written objections, and the parties shall have fourteen (14) days from service of objections, if any, to file a response. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); FRCP 6; FRCP 72(b)(2). This matter shall be set for consideration on November 8, 2019, as noted in the caption.

         I. ISSUE FOR REVIEW

         Did the ALJ err in evaluating the opinion of Dr. Erum Khaleeq?

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 6, 2014, plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits, alleging that she became disabled beginning July 29, 2014. Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (AR) 207, 217. Both applications were denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 132, 140, 145. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ). AR 32-63.

         In a decision dated November 28, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: Burn on her right hand; right ulnar neuropathy; chronic pain syndrome; chronic fatigue; fibromyalgia; diabetes; peripheral neuropathy; headaches; and depression. AR 18. The ALJ made an assessment of plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and determined plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 15-27. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on September 14, 2018. Plaintiff then appealed to this Court. AR 1; Dkt. 5; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence. Dkt. 10. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends the Court reverse and remand this case for further administrative proceedings.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error, or (2) the decision is 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, ” of evidence. Id.

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). It must weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court considers in its review only the reasons the ALJ identified and may not affirm for a different reason. Garrison, 579 F.3d at 1010. Furthermore, “[l]ong-standing principles of administrative law require us to review the ALJ's decision based on the reasoning and actual findings offered by the ALJ-not post hoc rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator may have been thinking.” Bray v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1225-26 (9th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         If the ALJ's decision is based on a rational interpretation of conflicting evidence, the Court will uphold the ALJ's finding. Carmickle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1165 (9th Cir. 2008). It is unnecessary for the ALJ to “discuss all evidence presented”. Vincent on Behalf of Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The ALJ must only explain why “significant probative evidence has been rejected.” Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §416.920. The Commissioner assesses a claimant's RFC to determine-at step four-whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). If the claimant cannot, then the ALJ reviews-at step five-whether the claimant can adjust to other work. Id. The Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999). The Commissioner can meet this burden by showing that a significant number of jobs that the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §416.920(e).

         I. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical ...


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