United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND
REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
A. TSUCHIDA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
appeals the denial of her application for benefits,
contending the ALJ erred by rejecting her testimony, a lay
witness statement, and two medical sources' opinions.
Dkt. 8. As discussed below, the Court
REVERSES the Commissioner's final
decision and REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity, and
mental health disorders of depression, anxiety,
post-traumatic stress, and methamphetamine use (in
remission). Dkt. 6, Admin. Record (Tr.) 18. The ALJ found
Plaintiff was able to perform medium work, limited to simple,
routine, repetitive tasks and simple work-related decisions.
Tr. 21. Although Plaintiff had no past relevant work, the ALJ
concluded she could perform jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy and thus was not disabled.
Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of Social
Security benefits only if the ALJ's decision is based on
legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017).
June 2018 hearing, Plaintiff testified she can stand or walk
for 15 minutes and then must sit for 15 minutes. Tr. 50-51.
Although walking is painful, she must walk to avoid
stiffness. Tr. 49-50. Plaintiff must prop her feet and ankles
up above her head twice a day for 30 to 45 minutes. Tr. 55.
She can lift 7 pounds. Tr. 57. Plaintiff testified she lacks
enough focus to read a book or watch a movie. Tr. 57. She
avoids places with a lot of people. Tr. 58. Plaintiff has
difficulty around crowds, but also has difficulty being alone
without a familiar person. Tr. 48-49. She has panic attacks
every month or two that usually last 15 to 20 minutes. Tr.
could only discount Plaintiff's testimony for
“specific, clear, and convincing” reasons
supported by substantial evidence. Trevizo, 871 F.3d
at 678. The ALJ discounted Plaintiff's testimony as
inconsistent with her poor work history, lack of supporting
objective evidence, daily activities, and improvement with
medication. Tr. 22-23.
disability report, Plaintiff stated she stopped working in
2008 due to her conditions. Tr. 301. The ALJ found Plaintiff
had a poor work history even before 2008 as well as a history
of drug abuse, and concluded her poor work history was
related to substance use. Tr. 22. This work history has very
little relevance to evaluating Plaintiff's testimony,
however. The ALJ accepted Plaintiff's testimony she has
not used drugs since her May 2016 alleged onset date.
See Tr. 21. Whether drug use affected her work
history before 2008 has little bearing on the reliability of
her 2018 hearing testimony. Work history was not a clear and
convincing reason to discount Plaintiff's testimony.
supporting objective evidence cannot, by itself, constitute
clear and convincing reason to discount a claimant's
testimony. Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 857
(9th Cir. 2001). “Contradiction with the medical record
is a sufficient basis for rejecting a claimant's
subjective testimony, ” however. Carmickle v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1161 (9th
Cir. 2008). Regarding physical impairments, the ALJ cited
only a lack of clinical observations of pain behavior,
atrophy, or difficulty moving, but identified no
contradictory medical evidence. Regarding mental impairments,
an examining psychologist found Plaintiff had normal
concentration. Tr 380, 554. This is reason to discount
testimony of impaired concentration, but not other testimony.
See Social Security Ruling 16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304 at
*8 (S.S.A. 2017) (ALJ must explain “which of
an individual's symptoms” was inconsistent with
evidence (emphasis added)). It does not contradict testimony
of avoiding crowds, for example.