United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
DAMIAN D. SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
DAVID W. CHRISTEL, Magistrate Judge.
The District Court has referred this action, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to United States Magistrate Judge David W. Christel. Plaintiff filed this matter seeking judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits.
After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes the ALJ incorrectly determined the opinion of examining psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Irwin, M.D. was based solely on Plaintiff's self-reports. In addition to Plaintiff's self-reports, Dr. Irwin's opinion was based on objective medical evidence, Plaintiff's diagnosed impairments, Dr. Irwin's personal observations, and a portion of the record. Further, the ALJ provided only a conclusory statement to support finding Dr. Irwin's opinion is not supported by the medical record. The Court also concludes the ALJ's reasons for giving "no weight" to the opinion of treating physician Dr. Vincent Phillips, M.D. are not specific and legitimate and supported by substantial evidence.
Had the ALJ fully credited the opinions of Drs. Irwin and Phillips, the residual functional capacity may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless, and this matter should be reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Report and Recommendation.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On March 18, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging disability as of August 21, 2006. See Dkt. 13, Administrative Record ("AR") 33. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See id. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Mattie Harvin-Woode ("ALJ") on November 13, 2012. See AR 61-119. In a decision dated January 30, 2013, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 33-47. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1) providing legally insufficient reasons for discrediting medical opinion evidence; (2) providing legally insufficient reasons for discrediting Plaintiff's subjective complaints; and (3) relying on improper evidence at Step Five of the sequential evaluation process. Dkt. 20.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) ( citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).
(1) Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for discrediting medical opinion evidence.
a. Dr. Jennifer Irwin, M.D.
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in her assessment of the medical opinion evidence of examining psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Irwin, M.D. See Dkt. 20, pp. 9-11. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains Dr. Irwin's findings were based on more than Plaintiff's self-reported symptoms, and therefore the ALJ erred when she gave no weight to Dr. Irwin's opinion for this reason. Id.
The ALJ must provide "clear and convincing" reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or examining physician. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996) ( citing Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988); Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)). When a treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted, the opinion can be rejected "for specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record." Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31 ( citing Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 1995); Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)). The ALJ can accomplish this by "setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting ...