United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ROBERT J. BRYAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on review of the file herein.
Procedural History. On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed this civil action, alleging that the Social Security Administration improperly denied her application for disability insurance when the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of Ann Cull, MSW, Plaintiff's therapist, and Jeffrey Collins, M.D., one of Plaintiff's treating physicians, and failed to give specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion of examining psychiatrist Clifford Tartalia, M.D.
Basic Data. Born in 1974, Plaintiff has prior work experience as a cashier, fast food worker, and busser. She has a General Education Diploma ("GED") and some college education.
ALJ Decision. The ALJ found: (1) that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act; (2) that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 17, 2012, the amended alleged onset date; (3) that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes mellitus, degenerative disc disease, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder; that the impairments, even in combination, did not qualify under the Listings; (4) that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with some additional limitations. The claimant can stand and walk for about six hours and sit for more than six hours with normal breaks and can lift, carry, push and pull within light exertional limits. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, can frequently crouch, and can occasionally stoop, kneel and crawl. The claimant can frequently handle and finger. She can perform work in which concentrated exposure to hazards is not present. In order to meet ordinary and reasonable employer expectations regarding attendance, workplace behavior and production, the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out unskilled, routine and repetitive work. She can work in proximity to co-workers, but not in a team or cooperative effort. The claimant can perform work in which direct service to the general public is not required, but other incidental contact is not precluded;
that she could not perform any past relevant work; and lastly, (5) that Plaintiff could perform other work existing in the national economy, such as house keeper, production assembler, and electronics assembler. AR 12-26.
Legal Standard. The findings of the Secretary of the Social Security Administration are conclusive (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), and the decision of the Secretary to deny benefits will be overturned only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or it is based on legal error. Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir.1990).
1. Medical Opinion Evidence. The ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and an examining physician.
Treating Physician. The ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons for failing to adopt all Plaintiff's treating physician's (Jeffrey Collins, M.D.) June 25, 2013 opinion regarding her limitations.
The opinion at issue is contained in a form, entitled "Mental Functional Capacity Assessment, " filled out and signed by Plaintiff's long time therapist, Ann Cull, MSW, of Kitsap Mental Health, and which was also signed by Dr. Collins (who also treated Plaintiff at Kitsap Mental Health) under a line which read: "I have reviewed the preceding and agree with the assessment." AR 577. Based on this endorsement, the form is from an "acceptable medical source, " a treating physician.
As to every question asked, this form indicated that Plaintiff was "markedly limited, " defined on the form as "[i]n a vocational setting, the individual cannot be expected to function independently, appropriately, and effectively, in the designated area on a regular and sustained basis, i.e. 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or equivalent work schedule." AR 574-577.
The ALJ did not accept several of the limitations contained in the form. For example, the ALJ did not accept Dr. Collins' and Ms. Cull's opinions that Plaintiff was "markedly limited" as to her ability to "remember locations and work-like procedures, " "understand and remember very short and simple instructions, " "carry out short and simple instructions, " "perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary tolerances, " "sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, " "make simple work-related decisions, " or "complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods." AR 574-575. By way of further example, she did not accept Dr. Collins' and Ms. Cull's opinions that Plaintiff was "markedly limited" in her ...