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Kennedy v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 19, 2017

DIANE M. KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE DECISION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING THE CASE FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          Helen Gillmor United States District Judge.

         This case involves the appeal of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits to Plaintiff Diane M. Kennedy.

         On September 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff claims she has been disabled and unable to work since September 18, 2013, due to anxiety and severe depression with suicidal ideation.

         The Social Security Administration denied her initial application. Following an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge held that Plaintiff is not disabled and found that Plaintiff is able to perform work in the national economy.

         On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge erred and requests a remand to the agency.

         The Court REVERSES the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner and REMANDS the case for further evaluation.

         Remand is necessary to allow the Administrative Law Judge to address the opinions of Psychologist Dennis Perez and Nurse Practitioner Karen Sheppard.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 3, 2013, Plaintiff Diane M. Kennedy filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits with the Social Security Administration. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 19, 158-59, ECF No. 10).

         On February 18, 2014, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's initial application. (AR at pp. 76-84).

         On June 13, 2014, the Administration denied her request for reconsideration. (AR at pp. 85-96).

         Following the denial of Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, she sought a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (AR at p. 110).

         On August 11, 2015, an ALJ conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 33-75).

         On October 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 16-32).

         Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council for the Social Security Administration. The Appeals Council denied further review of Plaintiff's application on November 30, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision as the final administrative decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR at pp. 1-6).

         On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision to deny her application for Disability Benefits in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Complaint for Review of Social Security Disability Insurance Determination, ECF No. 1).

         On March 28, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a briefing schedule. (ECF No. 12).

         On May 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S OPENING BRIEF. (ECF No. 13).

         On June 22, 2017, the Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 14).

         On July 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S REPLY BRIEF. (ECF No. 15).

         On August 31, 2017, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's appeal of the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner. (ECF No. 17).

         On September 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S POST-HEARING BRIEF. (ECF No. 18).

         On September 11, 2017, Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S SUPPLEMENTAL BRIEF. (ECF No. 19).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Work History

         Plaintiff is a 64 year-old female. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at p. 77, ECF No. 10). Plaintiff claims she has suffered from depression for about 40 years. (Id. at p. 183).

         Plaintiff served in the United States Air Force from November 19, 1971 to May 18, 1973. (Id. at pp. 46, 184). Plaintiff worked waiting tables for a number of years after leaving the Air Force, and she later worked as a receptionist and in real estate. (Id. at p. 1468).

         In 2000, Plaintiff received a Master's Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University. (Id. at pp. 46, 1468). From 2000 to 2008, Plaintiff served as a substance abuse counselor in Colorado. (Id. at pp. 48, 176). In late 2008, Plaintiff moved to Hawaii. (Id. at pp. 48, 183).

         Beginning in January 2009, Plaintiff worked as a drug and alcohol counselor on the island of Kauai. (Id. at p. 49). In November 2011, Plaintiff began working only four days per week due to depression and anxiety. (Id. at p. 183).

         From August 2012 to February 2013, Plaintiff took a leave of absence from her job and went to an in-patient residential treatment center in California to treat her severe depression. (Id. at pp. 50, 52, 183, 291).

         After returning to Kauai, in September 2013, Plaintiff resigned from her position. (Id. at pp. 51, 55-56).

         The Social Security Administration's Review of Plaintiff's September 2013 Application For Disability Benefits

         Plaintiff's September 3, 2013 application for Social Security Administration Disability Insurance Benefits was initially denied on February 8, 2014. (Id. at pp. 19, 76).

         Following the initial denial, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration. (Id. at pp. 106). On June 13, 2014, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (Id. at pp. 85-96). On July 2, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at pp. 111-12).

         On August 11, 2015, a hearing on Plaintiff's application for Social Security Administration Disability Benefits was held before an ALJ. (Id. at pp. 33-75). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (Id. at p. 19-28).

         Plaintiff claimed that she was disabled for a continuous period following September 18, 2013, due to a major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder with suicidal ideation, and a ...


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