United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE MARIA S. AGUILERA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Laura Bradley filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security. (Doc. 1.) Before the Court
are Bradley's opening brief, the Commissioner's
response brief, and Bradley's reply brief. (Docs. 21, 24,
25.) For the following reasons, the Court will remand for an
immediate award of benefits.
applied for disability insurance benefits on December 9,
2015, claiming a disability onset date of February 1, 2014.
AR 103-04. Bradley later amended her alleged
onset date to October 8, 2014. AR 310. Her
application was denied on May 13, 2016, and again on
reconsideration on December 1, 2016. AR 144,
149. On March 9, 2017, Bradley requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).
AR 157. At the hearing, held on August 27,
2018, Bradley testified about her medical conditions and past
work, and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified
about which jobs a hypothetical person with Bradley's
characteristics can perform. AR 29-55. On
September 13, 2018, the ALJ issued a written decision finding
Bradley not disabled and denying benefits. AR
7-23. On October 29, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied review. AR 1-3. Bradley now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's decision denying benefits.
Bradley's Personal History and Medical
has a history of scoliosis, fibromyalgia, acid reflux
disease, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety,
and alcohol-substance addiction disorder.
See AR 239, 250, 436. She has a
history of suicidal ideations and has attempted suicide on
several occasions, the most recent attempt occurring in
September 2015 by drug overdose. AR 344.
Bradley has had several traumatic experiences throughout her
adult life: her second husband committed suicide; her third
husband died of a heart attack on their honeymoon; and she
was drugged and gangraped on video by her boyfriend and his
friends while on a trip in Mexico. AR 738.
worked in the medical field until 2012. AR
267. She was a staff nurse from 1999 to 2006, a
supervising nurse from 2007 to August 2009, and a hospital
administrator from December 2009 to March 2012. AR
267. In these positions, Bradley worked extensive
hours, ranging from 8 to 16 hours per shift, almost all of
which she spent standing and walking. AR
268-70. Bradley estimated that she saw between four
and five hundred people die, which has had a negative effect
on her mental condition. AR 74. She quit
working due to her conditions. AR 239.
February 8, 2016, treating physician Dr. Gail McDonald
completed a physical residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment. Dr. McDonald opined, among
other things, that Bradley can stand for two hours or less
per eight-hour workday, walk less than two blocks before
needing to rest, occasionally lift and carry a maximum of 20
pounds, and never lift and carry more than 20 pounds.
AR 611. Dr. McDonald qualified her checkbox
opinions in the narrative portion of the form: “I
don't see [Bradley] regularly so it's hard for me to
be definite.” AR 611.
November 10, 2016, examining physician Dr. Jeri Hassman saw
Bradley in connection with her application for benefits.
AR 927-30. The physical examination of
Bradley was unremarkable, save for “an obvious
scoliosis” which did not prevent Bradley from reaching
her fingertips to ankle level without complaint. AR
929. Dr. Hassman diagnosed Bradley with
“[a]llegation[s] of fibromyalgia, ”
“[h]istory of scoliosis, ” and “[h]istory
of depression and suicide attempts.” AR
930. Dr. Hassman opined that none of Bradley's
conditions would cause any limitations for 12 continuous
months. AR 930.
reconsideration level, Dr. Jon Nordlicht opined whether
Bradley has any somatic impairments. AR 131.
Dr. Nordlicht noted that the consultative examination by Dr.
Hassman “was essentially normal” and that
Bradley's “x-rays show minimal findings.”
AR 131. Dr. Nordlicht thus agreed that
Bradley has no somatic impairments. AR 131.
hearing, Bradley testified that she is incapable of her past
work as a registered nurse because she cannot stand for even
half of a workday. AR 43-44. She testified
that she has scoliosis, which causes back pain. AR
38-39. She testified that she can lift 30 pounds but
not carry that weight even a short distance. AR
37-38, 44. She reported that, for a three-month
period in which her daughter was in rehab, she was solely
responsible for taking care of her granddaughter, the
household pets, and the home. AR 39-40. She
stated that she experienced increased stress during that
period. AR 47. After her daughter returned
and started working, Bradley began watching her granddaughter
from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. AR
her mental symptoms, Bradley reported that she still
struggles with depression, although it is controlled with
medication and she no longer has suicidal ideations.
AR 45-46.She testified that she experiences
“seasonal depression” approximately two times per
year, near the anniversaries of her husbands' deaths.
AR 46- 47. She reported that these bouts of
depression last approximately one month. AR
47. She further reported that her anxiety becomes so
bad at times that she cannot leave the house. AR
classified Bradley's hospital-administrator job as light
work and Bradley's nursing job as medium work, but opined
that Bradley actually performed both as light work.
AR 50. The ALJ asked the VE about a
hypothetical claimant with Bradley's age, education, and
work history who could perform medium work with the following
mental limitations: the claimant can understand, remember,
and carry out simple two-step tasks; maintain concentration,
persistence, and pace for up to four hours with customary
work breaks; adapt to simple and routine changes, travel, and
respond to hazards; and work in an environment requiring up
to frequent (as opposed to constant) superficial interaction
with the public and coworkers. AR 51. The VE
testified that the hypothetical claimant could not perform
Bradley's past work. AR 51. According to
the VE, however, the hypothetical claimant could perform
other unskilled medium work in the national economy,
including hand packager, laboratory-equipment cleaner, and
linen clerk. AR 51-52.
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether an individual is disabled. AR
11-23. At step one, the ALJ found that Bradley was
not engaged in “substantial gainful activity.”
AR 12. At step two, the ALJ found that
Bradley has four “severe” impairments: anxiety
disorder, affective disorder, alcohol-substance addiction
disorder, and personality disorder. AR 12.
The ALJ found that Bradley's fibromyalgia and scoliosis
are “non-severe” physical impairments. AR
12-14. At step three, the ALJ found that Bradley
does not have an ...