United States District Court, Western District of Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT’S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
Karen L. Strombom United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of the defendant Commissioner’s denial of his applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the parties’ briefs and the remaining record, the Court hereby finds that for the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits is AFFIRMED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 3, 2008, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of April 1, 2006, due to problems with his legs and knees, depression, and cognitive problems. See Administrative Record (“AR”) 249-61, 356, 361, 382, 385. His applications were denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 150-65, 169-78. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on September 23, 2010, at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did Plaintiff’s family friend and a vocational expert. See AR 52-87.
On October 5, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. See AR 110-23. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff’s request for review, and vacated the ALJ’s decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. AR 130-34. The ALJ held a second administrative hearing on February 4, 2013, and subsequently issued another decision finding Plaintiff not disabled on February 15, 2013. AR 27-44, 89-98. Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision was denied by the Appeals Council on June 25, 2014, making the ALJ’s second decision the Commissioner’s final decision. See AR 1-7; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
On August 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ’s decision. See ECF ## 1, 3. The administrative record was filed with the Court on November 10, 2014. See ECF ## 13, 14. The parties have completed their briefing, and thus this matter is now ripe for judicial review and a decision by the Court.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ’s decision should be reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for a finding of disability, or further proceedings in the alternative, because the ALJ erred: (1) in evaluating the medical evidence in the record; and (2) in discounting Plaintiff’s credibility. For the reasons set forth below, the Court disagrees that the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff to be not disabled, and therefore affirms the Commissioner’s decision.
The Commissioner’s determination that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the “proper legal standards” have been applied and the “substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports” that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Batson v. Comm’r of Social Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772 F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) (“A decision supported by substantial evidence will, nevertheless, be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.” (citing Brawner v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987))).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 (“[T]he Commissioner’s findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”). “The substantial evidence test requires that the reviewing court determine” whether the Commissioner’s decision is “supported by more than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a preponderance of the evidence is required.” Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975). “If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, ” the Commissioner’s decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (“‘Where there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm the decision actually made.’” (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971))).
I. The ALJ’s Evaluation of the Medical Evidence in the Record
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in discounting opinions provided by examining psychologists Maxine Hoggan, Psy.D., and Michael Brown, Ph.D. The Court will address each disputed opinion in turn.
A. Legal Standards for Review of Medical Opinion Evidence
The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the medical evidence in the record is not conclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts” are solely the functions of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such cases, “the ALJ’s conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v. Comm’r of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). Determining whether inconsistencies in the medical evidence “are material (or are in fact ...