United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Ann Marie Church, brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Plaintiff Church seeks disability insurance benefits as of July 1, 2004. for disability resulting from multiple factors and conditions including hypothyroidism, obesity, fibromyalgia, fatigue, Hashimoto's Disease, PTSD, and depression. [#2, 12, and 18. Ms. Church filed applications for supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits on April 1, 2009. (Tr. 121-27, 138). Her eligibility for Title II disability benefits ended on December 31, 2009, which was the date she was last insured. (Tr. 138). Church's SSI claim was denied on April 8, 2009 because her resources exceeded the maximum cutoff. (Tr. 65). Church's Title II claim for disability insurance was denied initially on July 2, 2009 (Tr. 77) and upon reconsideration on August 26, 2009. (Tr. 83). On September 29, 2009, Church requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 87). Church appeared and testified at a hearing held on October 7, 2010 and was represented by counsel (Brad Myler & Associates of Lehi, Utah) at that time. (Tr. 28-60). On October 14, 2010, the ALJ (Richard A. Say) issued a decision concluding that although Church's impairments prevented her from returning to her past work, she was not disabled because she could still perform less demanding work. (Tr. 21-32).
On May 9, 2012, the Appeals Council declined Church's request to review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1, 4). On July 10, 2012, Church sent a letter to the Appeals Council stating she was no longer represented by counsel and that her previous attorney had not submitted all of her medical records to the ALJ. (Tr. 3). There were approximately 130 pages of missing records including evaluations by Julia Speer, LPC [#18-1], Western Psychological and Counseling Services [#18-2], Dr. Bob Sklovsky [#18-3], and Kaiser Permanente [#18-4]. On July 11, 2012, before the Appeals Council could respond, Church filed this action for review of the Commissioner's decision. [#2].
After not being able to find another attorney to take her case at this level, Church filed her pro se Complaint [#2] on July 11, 2012 and her Plaintiffs Brief [#18] on October 1, 2013. As the Defendant's Brief correctly points out, "this Court has a duty to liberally construe Plaintiffs prose brief." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). [#20 at page 12].
In her liberally construed pro se Complaint [#2] and Plaintiffs Brief [# 18], Church argues that the ALJ and Appeals Council ruled in error because they were not aware of the aforementioned 130 pages of missing medical records when their rulings were made, and therefore a complete evaluation was never made. [#18]. In addition, Church argues that the ALJ's decision was in error and not based on substantial evidence because of the ALJ's failing to properly evaluate the medical evidence of record in regards to her PTSD and other ailments, failing to give full credit to the opinions of Dr. Jimenez, failing to give clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiffs own testimony, and failing to properly assess and prove that Church was able to do "other work" (adequate hypotheticals) in the national economy. [#2, 18].
The Defendant's Brief [#20] construes the Plaintiffs arguments as presenting the following three (3) issues:
1. Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff is not a reliable source for determining the most she can do despite her limitations;
2. Whether the ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence and conclusions about Plaintiffs limitations are supported by substantial evidence; and
3. Whether the evidence Plaintiff submitted to the Court is new and material.
For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings and a new decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
As the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review, the ALJ's written decision became the Commissioner's final decision. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. This court's review of the Commissioner's final disability determination is limited to evaluating whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the decision is free of harmful legal error. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110-11 (9th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence constitutes "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. at 1110 (internal quotation marks omitted). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which ...