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Lawson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 20, 2013

AMANDA M. LAWSON, Plaintiff,


JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, District Judge.

The Court, having reviewed Plaintiffs Complaint (Dkt. No. 3), the report and recommendation ("R&R") of U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue (Dkt. No. 19), Plaintiffs objections (Dkt. No. 20), and the remaining record, ADOPTS IN PART the report and recommendation and REMANDS the case for further proceedings.


Plaintiffs application for supplemental security income was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration. Following a hearing on August 16, 2012, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff not disabled. The Appeals Council then denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJs decision the Commissioners final decision subject to judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481, 422.210.

Plaintiff sought this Courts review. In a report dated September 13, 2013, Magistrate Judge Donohue recommended affirming the decision of the ALJ. (Dkt. No. 19.) Plaintiff objects to the R&R. (Dkt. No. 20.) Plaintiffs objections relate to the ALJs evaluation of the opinions of examining psychologist Shannan Jones, Ph.D.; non-examining physicians Kristine Harrison, Psy.D. and Michael Brown, Ph.D.; treating psychotherapist Jessica Wambold, M.A., M.H.C.; and treating nurse practitioner Michael Jackson, A.R.N.P. Plaintiff also objects to the R&Rs conclusions that the ALJ properly found Plaintiff less than fully credible, and that the ALJs hypothetical for the vocational expert was free of error. This Court disagrees with the Magistrate Judge only about the opinion of Dr. Harrison and the hypothetical for the vocational expert, so discusses those two issues last.


The Court reviews de novo the sections of a magistrate judges report or recommendations to which a party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court will not overturn the Commissioners final decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g) ("findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive"). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)). It need not be a preponderance of the evidence but must be more than a mere scintilla. See id. (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003)).

If an ALJ rejects the opinion of a treating or examining physician, the ALJ must give clear and convincing reasons for doing so if the opinion is not contradicted by other evidence, and specific and legitimate reasons if it is. See Regennitter v. Comm'r of Social Sec. Admin., 166 F.3d 1294, 1298-99 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1988). "This can be done by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725 (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)). An ALJ may reject the opinion of a physician if it is conclusionary, brief, and unsupported by clinical findings. See Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 751.

The opinion of a nonexamining medical source is given less weight than the opinion of a treating or examining doctor. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 831 (9th Cir. 1995). Even so, an ALJ may not ignore these sources and must explain the weight given to the opinion. See Social Security Ruling 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, at *2. An ALJ may reject the opinion of a nonexamining doctor by referring to specific evidence in the record. See Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1998).

"Where medical reports are inconclusive, questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the Secretary." Id.; Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). The ALJs credibility findings must be supported by specific, cogent reasons. See Gregor v. Barnhart, 464 F.3d 968, 972 (9th Cir. 2006).

A. Plaintiff's Objections

1. Dr. Jones' Opinion

Dr. Jones conducted a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff at which she performed a mental status examination. (Dkt. No. 19 at 8.) Both the ALJ and the Magistrate Judge detailed Dr. Jones' findings, which are not repeated here. (Dkt. No. 10-2 at 22, 24; Dkt. No. 19 at 8-10.) In short, Dr. Jones concluded that Plaintiff could not maintain a regular work schedule or complete a normal work day without interruptions. The ALJ gave Dr. Jones' opinion little weight because it was inconsistent with her clinical findings, Plaintiffs reported daily activities, and "the record as a whole, which indicates that the claimants mood improved and stabilized with treatment." (Dkt. No. 10-2 at 24.)

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ provided no example of the alleged inconsistency between Dr. Jones' opinion and her clinical findings. (Dkt. No. 20 at 2.) In particular, Plaintiff disagrees with the ALJs conclusion that Plaintiff could perform simple, repetitive tasks and argues that the ALJ failed to explain how caring for children is inconsistent with Dr. Jones' opinion. (Dkt. No. 20 at 2-3.) Plaintiff also argues that it is simply incorrect to say that her impairments were controlled with medication because the improvement was merely "isolated periods of improvement... of limited ...

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