United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
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 the Social Security Commissioner's
(“Commissioner”) denial of Plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. 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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
evaluating Plaintiff's non-severe impairments at step two
of the sequential evaluation. Had the ALJ properly evaluated
Plaintiff's impairments at step two, the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included
additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore
harmful, and this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Social
Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”) for
further proceedings consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
March 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits. See Administrative Record
(“AR”) 37, 564-65. On May 26, 2015, Plaintiff
filed an application for supplementary security income. AR
37, 568-73. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of July 4, 2014. AR 37, 564-65, 658-73.
Her applications were denied upon initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. AR 37, 498-500, 502-07,
508-13. A hearing was held before ALJ Glenn G. Meyers on
October 25, 2016. AR 416-54. In a decision dated March 14,
2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR
34-52. The Social Security Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on December 19, 2018. AR
1-7. The ALJ's decision of March 14, 2018 is the final
decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1)
incorrectly finding several of Plaintiff's impairments
non-severe; (2) failing to properly assess opinion evidence
from examining psychologist Ellen Walker, Ph.D.; (3) failing
to properly evaluate Plaintiff's subjective allegations;
(4) not considering the combined effects of Plaintiff's
impairments; (5) improperly assessing Plaintiff's RFC;
and (6) not resolving an apparent conflict between vocational
expert testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) . Dkt. 10, pp. 3-13.
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 evaluated Plaintiff's
impairments at step two.
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that several of her
impairments were either non-medically determinable or
non-severe at step two of the sequential evaluation. Dkt. 10,
found that Plaintiff's arthritis was a non-medically
determinable impairment. AR 42. The ALJ reasoned that despite
Plaintiff's complaints of arthritis in her lower back,
right shoulder, hands, hips, and knees, there was no
radiographic imaging to substantiate the existence of
arthritis in these joints. AR 42. The ALJ also reasoned that
even if subsequent imaging did reveal the existence of
arthritis, this would not preclude Plaintiff from performing
light work, given that she exhibited normal gait and motor
strength during physical examinations. AR 42, 755, 916, 1001.
impairment is medically determinable only when its existence
can be shown through objective medical evidence such as
laboratory findings and tests done using acceptable clinical
diagnostic techniques. Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d
1002, 1005 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-4p, 1996 WL 374187, at *1 (July 2,
1996)). “ ‘[R]egardless of how many symptoms an
individual alleges, or how genuine the individual's
complaints may appear to be, the existence of a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment cannot be
established in the absence of ...