United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.
filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking judicial review of the denial of Plaintiff's
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). The parties have consented to proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate
Judge Rule MJR 13. See also Consent to Proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 6.
reviewing the record, the Court concludes the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not err by declining to
obtain a consultative examination or additional medical
expert testimony. The ALJ also did not err by finding
Plaintiff failed to meet the requirements of a listing, by
discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony, or
by finding Plaintiff was capable of performing work existing
in significant numbers in the national economy. Therefore,
this matter is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
August 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, and
on October 23, 2013, Plaintiff amended his application.
See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”)
456-59. Plaintiff alleges he became disabled on April 1,
2012, due to posttraumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety,
history of pulmonary embolism, mood disorder, bilateral
shoulder impingement, lumbosacral strain, limited motion of
the right hip, patella femoral syndrome (bilateral), and
chronic prostatitis. See AR 458, 488.
Plaintiff's application was denied upon initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR
319-45. A hearing was held before an ALJ on September 9,
2014, at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared
and testified. See AR 210. Based on the content of
the first hearing, Plaintiff filed objections to the
testimony of the Vocational Expert, Steve Duchesne. AR 19-20.
The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on June 10, 2015, at
which Plaintiff, Mr. Duchesne, and Dr. Joseph Moisan, a
second Vocational Expert, appeared and testified. AR 72.
December 23, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the
Social Security Act. AR 61. Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals
Council on April 20, 2016, making that decision the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”). See AR 1, 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.981, § 416.1481. On June 17, 2016, Plaintiff
filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of
the Commissioner's final decision.
argues the denial of benefits should be reversed and remanded
for further proceedings, because the ALJ: 1) failed to
resolve an ambiguity in the medical evidence by obtaining an
additional consultative examination; 2) improperly found
Plaintiff did not meet the requirements of a Listing; 3)
improperly discounted Plaintiff's subjective symptom
testimony; 4) failed to account for Plaintiff's chronic
pain in the residual functional capacity (“RFC”);
and 5) failed to support his finding at Step Five with
substantial evidence. Dkt. 13, pp. 1-2.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits only 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)). “Substantial evidence” is
more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such
“‘relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir.
1989) (quoting Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323,
325-26 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Whether the ALJ Erred by Failing to Order a Physical and
Mental Consultative Examination
argues the ALJ erred by failing to order physical and mental
consultative examinations, or otherwise failing to call an
expert in mental health to testify at a supplemental hearing.
Specifically, Plaintiff argues the testimony of consulting
cardiologist Dr. Alan West, M.D. at Plaintiff's first
hearing created an ambiguity which triggered the ALJ's
duty to develop the record. Dkt. 13, pp. 6-9.
Plaintiff's first hearing, the ALJ called Dr. West as a
consulting medical expert witness to offer an opinion as to
Plaintiff's functional limitations. AR 211-37. Of
relevance to this analysis, Dr. West testified to several
• Dr. West summarily opined that the significant mental
health issues reflected in the medical records “may in
fact be at the level of the Commissioner's . . .
listings.” AR 218.
• Dr. West opined to certain exertional limitations,
such as a limitation to light work with the additional
restriction that Plaintiff could stand/walk no more than four
hours in an eight-hour workday, and could not push, pull, or
lift objects overhead. AR 220, 231.
• Dr. West opined to certain postural limitations, such
as no more than occasional climbing of ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasional stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; and no balancing. AR 220.
• Dr. West opined to certain manipulative limitations,
such as occasional handling and fingering. AR 220-21.
• Throughout his testimony Dr. West also indicated he
believed a consultative physical examination would clarify
whether and to what extent Plaintiff's carpal tunnel
syndrome would cause ...