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Steven Dauteuil v. Michael J. Astrue

August 2, 2011

STEVEN DAUTEUIL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he:

1) found that Plaintiff failed to follow his prescribed treatment; and

2) rejected the treating and examining doctor's opinions. For the following reasons, the case is remanded to the Agency for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II. BACKGROUND

In January 2006, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that he had been unable to work since September 2004, due to ADD, dyslexia, anxiety, bad back, bad neck, bad elbow, depression, migraines, and internal bleeding. (Administrative Record ("AR") 58-65, 103.) The Agency denied the application initially and again on reconsideration. (AR 35-39, 45-49.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 34.) On October 18, 2007, Plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative at the hearing and testified before the ALJ. (AR 313-34.) On November 29, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision to deny benefits. (AR 9-19.) After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 4-6), he commenced this action.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The ALJ Erred in Finding That Plaintiff Failed to Follow His Prescribed Treatment

In his first claim of error, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred when he found that Plaintiff had failed to follow his prescribed mental health treatment regimen. (Joint Stip. at 3-5.) The Agency disagrees. (Joint Stip. at 11-12.) For the following reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ erred and that this error warrants remand.

Between August and October 2007, Plaintiff was treated by psychiatrist Patricia Grogan. (AR 288-310.) Dr. Grogan prescribed several medications to treat Plaintiff's impairments, including Invega, Geodon, and Lexapro. (AR 297, 304, 310.) Dr. Grogan's records reflect that Plaintiff was compliant with the medication regimen. (AR 288-310.)

In his decision denying disability, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not compliant. (AR 17.) This finding is not supported by any evidence in the record and, thus, was in error.

The Agency disagrees. However, it does not argue that there are any records that show that Plaintiff was not compliant with the medications prescribed by Dr. Grogan. It argues, instead, that what the ALJ must have been referring to was the fact that Plaintiff had taken medications as a child and had stopped when he became an adult. (Joint Stip. at 11.) The Court's reading of the record and the ALJ's decision does not support this interpretation. It seems clear that the ALJ was misreading Dr. Grogan's records when he concluded that Plaintiff was not compliant. As such, the Court finds that the ALJ erred.

That finding does not end the inquiry, however. The fact that the ALJ erred in interpreting the record does not necessarily lead to a finding that the decision should be reversed. Reversal is warranted only if the error had an impact on the ALJ's disability determination. See Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006) (noting, in the Social Security context, an error is harmless if it is "inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination."); see also Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007) (holding error in ...


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