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Barbara R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 4, 2019

BARBARA R., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          THERESA L. FRICKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits.

         The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is reversed and remanded for an award of benefits as to the period between April 4, 2012 and March 14, 2015.

         I. ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Did the ALJ err in evaluating Plaintiff's symptom testimony?

         2. Did the ALJ properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence?

         3. Did the ALJ err in discounting lay witness testimony?

         II. BACKGROUND

         On January 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of April 4, 2012. AR 22, 186-87, 819. Plaintiff's application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 22, 95-98, 107-09, 819. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Virginia M. Robinson on May 15, 2014. AR 38-63, 1037-63. On June 16, 2014, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 19-32, 935-49. The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 3-10.

         On January 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 898. On September 29, 2016, this Court reversed and remanded the case for further consideration of Plaintiff's testimony and the medical opinion evidence. AR 881-95, 900-03, 927.

         After another hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on August 27, 2018 finding that Plaintiff was disabled as of June 8, 2016. AR 815-38, 850-80. On December 22, 2018, Plaintiff filed the current complaint in this Court Plaintiff asks for a finding that Plaintiff was disabled between April 2012 and March 2015 and an award of benefits; in the alternative, Plaintiff requests a remand for further proceedings. Dkt. 1, Dkt. 10, p. 19.

         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). 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). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). Step two of the administration's evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine if the claimant “has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289-90 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).

         At step three of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ must evaluate the claimant's impairments to decide whether they meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R § 404.1520(d); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th ...


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