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Chapman v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Washington, Seattle

March 11, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, in her capacity as Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


The Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Court Judge


This matter comes before the court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Dkt. # 19) of the Honorable John L. Weinberg, United States Magistrate Judge, along with Plaintiff Trisha Ann Marie Chapman’s objection (Dkt. # 23) to the R&R. The court has considered the R&R, the objection, the Commissioner’s response to the objection and Ms. Chapman’s reply, the briefs the parties submitted to Judge Weinberg, and the Administrative Record (“AR”). For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS Ms. Chapman’s objection in part and DENIES it in part. The court ADOPTS the R&R as to its conclusions about Ms. Chapman’s physical health, but DECLINES TO ADOPT the R&R as to its conclusions about Ms. Chapman’s mental health. The court REVERSES the Commissioner’s final decision, and REMANDS this action to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) for further proceedings consistent with this order. The clerk shall enter judgment for Ms. Chapman and ensure that Judge Weinberg receives notice of this order.


The court need not repeat the R&R’s thorough discussion of the circumstances underlying this appeal of the denial of Ms. Chapman’s application for disability benefits. That denial came in the November 13, 2012 decision of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).

In particular, the court need not repeat the R&R’s discussion of the conditions that limit Ms. Chapman’s physical capacity to work. Ms. Chapman objects to the R&R’s analysis of the ALJ’s treatment of Ms. Chapman’s assertions that she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, but that objection does not persuade the court. The court adopts the R&R in this regard, because the court agrees that the ALJ had an adequate basis to conclude that Ms. Chapman’s carpal tunnel syndrome could not be expected to persist for 12 months. The parties identify no other disputes about the ALJ’s assessment of Ms. Chapman’s physical capabilities.

Ms. Chapman raises objections to errors in the testimony of the vocational expert who testified at her hearing as well as the ALJ’s alleged failure to account for those errors. Those objections do not persuade the court, and the court adopts the R&R’s analysis of the vocational expert’s testimony and the ALJ’s assessment of it.

Ms. Chapman objects to the ALJ’s treatment of the report of lay witness Alex Stollar, who at various times relevant to this appeal was Ms. Chapman’s landlord, friend, and then husband. The court need not decide if the ALJ had an adequate basis to limit the weight afforded to Mr. Stollar’s report, because any error in the ALJ’s assessment is immaterial in light of the court’s disposition today.

The court departs from the R&R only in its consideration of the evaluations of two psychologists: Dr. Terilee Wingate, Ph.D, and Dr. Tasmyn Bowes, Psy.D. Both psychologists examined Ms. Chapman and diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Both psychologists concluded that Ms. Chapman’s mental health would interfere markedly with key aspects of her job performance. Dr. Bowes concluded that she would have marked difficulty learning new tasks, persisting in the completion of tasks, and maintaining appropriate behavior throughout the workday. AR 399-404. Dr. Wingate concluded that she would have difficulty persisting in work activity and would be unable to get along with co-workers, supervisors, or the public in a job setting. AR 537. When Ms. Chapman’s counsel asked the vocational experts to incorporate those limitations into the assessment of Ms. Chapman’s ability to work, the vocational expert did not identify any jobs she could perform. AR 80-84.

Where medical evidence contradicts the evidence from an examining or treating medical provider, the “ALJ may reject [the examining provider’s opinion] by providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014). Two psychologists who did not examine Ms. Chapman performed reviews of her medical records, arriving at mental residual functional capacity assessments that were somewhat less restrictive than the limitations that Dr. Wingate and Dr. Bowes assessed. AR 98-100, 122-123. The court follows the ALJ’s lead and treats those assessments as contradictory evidence. The question is whether there were specific and legitimate reasons to reject the opinions of Dr. Bowes and Dr. Wingate.

The ALJ gave “little weight” to Dr. Bowes’s opinion because she relied on Ms. Chapman’s subjective reporting (which the ALJ believed was not “entirely credible”), because Dr. Bowes was not aware of evidence of Ms. Chapman’s social functioning, and because she had not reviewed Ms. Chapman’s treatment records. AR 23-24. The ALJ also pointed to Dr. Bowes’s conclusion that Ms. Chapman’s exaggeration of symptoms invalidated her scores on the Personality Assessment Inventory (“PAI”). AR 23-24. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Wingate’s testimony because she relied excessively on Ms.

Chapman’s subjective reporting, but also because the ALJ rejected her conclusion that Ms. Chapman would have difficulty getting along with supervisors or co-workers. AR 24. The ALJ reasoned that Ms. Chapman followed Dr. Wingate’s instructions, and thus would be able to follow a supervisor’s instructions. AR 24. The ALJ also concluded that Ms. Chapman’s past work history was inconsistent with Dr. Wingate’s assessment that she would have difficulty interacting with co-workers and supervisors. AR 24.

Ms. Chapman’s work history did not provide a legitimate basis to limit the weight afforded to anyone’s testimony. Ms. Chapman last worked in December 2010. AR 49-51. For some months leading up to that date, she took care of two children (either in their home or in her home) for 4 to 5 hours per day every other week. AR 49-51. She did that work without supervision, and thus that employment has no bearing on her ability to get along with co-workers or supervisors. Prior to that work, Ms. Chapman’s last job was providing childcare at “The Learning Tree, ” a job that ended in September 2008. AR 51-53, 267. That job ended when Ms. Chapman had a dispute with her supervisor. AR 52-53. Ms. Chapman’s disability onset date was July 2010. The ALJ could not point to employment prior to that date as evidence of her ability to work despite her disability. And unsupervised child care work performed for a few months after that date gives no insight into her ability to work with adult supervisors and co-workers.

Ms. Chapman’s ability to follow Dr. Wingate’s instructions is not a legitimate basis to discount the conclusion that Ms. Chapman would have difficulty working with co-workers and supervisors. Ms. Chapman’s ability to follow directions in a clinical environment that lasted no more than a day says little, ...

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