United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
A. RUSSO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rosalie B. brings this action for judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Title II Disability Insurance Benefits. All parties have
consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and
judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case
remanded for the immediate payment of benefits.
1956, plaintiff alleges disability beginning July 1, 2012,
to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”) stemming from childhood abuse. Tr. 200,
229-37, 343. On March 30, 2016, the ALJ issued a partially
favorable decision, finding plaintiff disabled as of May 10,
2013. Tr. 14-26. After the Appeals Council denied her request
for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr.
one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined
above, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
Tr. 16. At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff's
depressive disorder and PTSD were severe. Id. At
step three, the ALJ found plaintiff's impairments, either
singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment prior to May 10, 2013.
she did not establish presumptive disability at step three as
of the alleged onset date, the ALJ continued to evaluate how
plaintiff's impairments affected her ability to work. The
ALJ resolved that, as of the alleged onset date, plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity to perform “a full
range of work at all exertional levels” but with the
following non-exertional limitations: “simple routine
tasks consistent with a reasoning level of two and unskilled
work as defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles,
” and “occasional interaction with the
public.” Tr. 18.
four, the ALJ determined plaintiff could not perform any past
relevant work. Tr. 21. At step five, the ALJ concluded that,
between July 1, 2012, and May 9, 2013, plaintiff could
perform a significant number of jobs in the national and
local economy despite her impairments, such as industrial
cleaner, laboratory equipment cleaner, and hand packager. Tr.
22. However, beginning on May 10, 2013, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was disabled pursuant to Listing 12.06. Tr. 23-25.
case hinges on whether there is sufficient evidence in the
record to establish an earlier disability onset date.
Specifically, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1)
failing to weigh the June 2012 and subsequent medical opinion
evidence from treating psychiatrist Victor Richenstein, M.D.;
(2) discrediting her hearing testimony regarding the extent
of her symptoms on or around July 1, 2012; and (3) rejecting
the lay witness testimony regarding the period prior to May
Commissioner concedes harmful legal error such that the sole
issue on review is the proper legal remedy. Plaintiff
contends Dr. Richenstein's opinion and her subjective
symptom statements should be credited as true, and this case
remanded for the immediate payment of benefits. Conversely,
the Commissioner asserts further proceedings are warranted
because “the inference of a disability onset date
without the help of a medical expert is inconsistent with SSR
83-20 and Ninth Circuit case law.” Def.'s Mot.
Remand 5 (doc. 21).
decision whether to remand for further proceedings or for the
immediate payment of benefits lies within the discretion of
the court. Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1101-02 (9th Cir. 2014).
Nevertheless, a remand for an award of benefits is generally
appropriate when: (1) the ALJ failed to provide legally
sufficient reasons for rejecting evidence; (2) the record has
been fully developed, there are no outstanding issues that
must be resolved, and further administrative proceedings
would not be useful; and (3) after crediting the relevant
evidence, “the record, taken as a whole, leaves not the
slightest uncertainty” concerning disability.
Id. at 1100-01 (citations omitted); see also
Dominguez v. Colvin, 808 F.3d 403, 407-08 (9th Cir.
2015) (summarizing the standard for determining the proper
review of the record, the Court finds remand for the
immediate payment of benefits is proper. Initially, as noted
above, it is undisputed the ALJ committed reversible error in
resolving plaintiff's claim. Notably, a plain reading of
the ALJ's decision confirms that he neglected to afford
any weight to Dr. Richenstein's opinion. Tr. 21. As
plaintiff's treating mental health provider, Dr.
Richenstein's opinion constituted relevant and probative
evidence that the ALJ was required to discuss. See
Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.3d 1393, 1395 (9th Cir.1984)
(the ALJ must explain the rejection of all relevant and
contrary to the Commissioner's assertion, Dr. Richenstein
did not merely provide a Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score. Rather, Dr. Richenstein was
significantly involved with plaintiff's treatment; he
provided regular counseling for eight months and prescribed
multiple psychotropic medications. Tr. 346-54. Moreover,
because the Social Security Administration was unable to
secure records from the other doctor (i.e., Yan Tan Cheng,
M.D.) who treated plaintiff prior to May 10, 2013, Dr.
Richenstein's records represent the only medical evidence
from the dispositive time-frame. Tr. 49, 56, 60-62, 74-77,
108, 312, 341, 354; see also Coaty v. Colvin, 2015
WL 1137189, *4-5 (D. Or. Mar. 11, 2015), aff'd,
673 Fed.Appx. 787 (9th ...