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Matthews v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

May 7, 2018

KARA L. MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commission of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Brian Morris, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Kara Matthews filed a Complaint requesting a review of the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her disability benefits on July 17, 2017. (Doc. 1). Judge Johnston entered Findings and Recommendations in this matter on February 27, 2018. (Doc. 20.)

         Judge Johnston recommended the Court grant Matthews's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) credibility determination and Dr. Miller's negative statements, and be remanded for further proceedings. Id. Judge Johnston further recommended that the Court deny Matthews's Motion for Summary Judgment in all other respects. Id.

         When a party makes no objections, the Court need not review de novo the proposed Findings and Recommendations. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-52 (1986). This Court will review Judge Johnston's Findings and Recommendations, however, for clear error. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited. The Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only when the substantial evidence does not support the decision or the Commissioner based the decision on legal error. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The Social Security Act regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953 (9th Cir. 2001). The five steps of inquiry are as follows: (1) Is claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity; (2) Is the claimant's impairment severe; (3) Does the impairment “meet or equal” one of a list of specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 220, Appendix 1; (4) Is the claimant able to do any work that she has done in the past; and (5) Is the claimant able to do any other work. Id. at 954. The claimant has the burden of proof for steps one through four, and the Commissioner has the burden of proof for step five. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The ALJ determined under step three, that Matthews did not have an impairment, or combination of impairments, that met or was medically equal to one of the listed impairments. (Doc. 20 at 8.) At step four, the ALJ determined that Matthews possessed the ability to perform past relevant work as a bus monitor and housing inspector. Id. at 9. At step five, the ALJ made the alternative determination that Matthews possessed the ability to make a successful adjustment to other work. Id. The ALJ determined that Matthews had not been under a disability since April 30, 2011, and denied her claim.

         A. Credibility

         The ALJ must first determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment “which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1014 (9th Cir. 2014). If the claimant presents this evidence, the “ALJ can only reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of her symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Id. Judge Johnston determined, and the Court agrees, that the ALJ erred in failing to point to the specific parts of Matthews's testimony the ALJ found not credible. (Doc. 20 at 14.) Judge Johnston further determined, and the Court agrees, that the ALJ failed to support her credibility determination with specific, clear, and convincing reasons. Id.

         B. PTSD and Depression

         At step two, a claimant must make a threshold showing that her medically determinable impairments significantly limit her ability to perform basic work activities. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 145 (1987). Matthews argues that the ALJ failed to incorporate PTSD as an impairment. (Doc. 20 at 16.) Judge Johnston determined, and the Court agrees, that the ALJ discussed Matthews's PTSD, along with her depression, and determined that neither condition significantly limited her mental ability to perform basic work activities. Id.

         C. ...


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