United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
RICHARD R. ARCHULETA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER
Honorable Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge.
Archuleta seeks review of the denial of his applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Mr. Archuleta contends the ALJ erred in (1)
concluding his impairments did not equal any of the Medical
Listings; (2) evaluating the medical evidence; (3) rejecting
his own testimony; (4) finding he could return to his past
work or, alternatively, that he could perform other work
existing in the national economy. Dkt. 9 at 1-2. Mr. Archulta
contends this case should be remanded for a finding of
disability and an award of benefits. Dkt. 9 at 2. As
discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's
final decision and REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
January 23, 2012, Mr. Archuleta applied for benefits,
alleging disability as of September 18, 2010. Tr. 188-97. Mr.
Archuleta's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 71-110, 115-32, 410. After conducting a
hearing on January 28, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision on
February 15, 2013, finding Mr. Archuleta not disabled. Tr.
27-42, 44-70. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Archuleta's
request for review and Mr. Archuleta subsequently sought
judicial review. Tr. 1-6. By order dated January 12, 2015,
the district court reversed and remanded the case for further
administrative proceedings. Tr. 533-541. The ALJ conducted a
second hearing on October 19, 2015, and on February 3, 2016,
issued a decision again finding Mr. Archuleta not disabled.
Tr. 410-23, 432-91.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Mr. Archuleta has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 18, 2010, the
alleged onset date.
Step two: Mr. Archuleta has the following
severe impairments: unilateral vestibulopathy,
acromioclavicular joint arthritis, chronic biceps rupture,
and status post rotator cuff repair.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Archuleta
can perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb
ramps and scaffolds, and never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch
and crawl. He can occasionally reach overhead with the left
upper extremity. He must avoid all exposure to unprotected
Step four: Mr. Archuleta can perform past
relevant work as a cashier II and, as such, is not disabled.
Step five: Alternatively, as there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Mr. Archuleta can perform, he is not disabled.
Tr. 410-23. Mr. Archuleta now seeks judicial review of the
ALJ's February 3, 2016 decision finding him not disabled.
Archuleta contends the ALJ erred in weighing the medical
opinion evidence. Dkt. 9 at 8-13. Specifically, Mr. Archuleta
contends the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of treating
and examining physicians Larry G. Duckert, M.D., Ph.D. and
Maciej Mrugala, M.D., and relying on the opinion of
non-examining medical expert Peter R. DeMarco, M.D. Dkt. 9.
general, more weight should be given to the opinion of a
treating physician than to a non-treating physician, and more
weight to the opinion of an examining physician than to a
nonexamining physician. See Lester v. Chater, 81
F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996). Where a treating or examining
doctor's opinion is not contradicted by another doctor,
it may be rejected only for clear and convincing reasons.
Id. Where contradicted, a treating or examining
physician's opinion may not be rejected without
“specific and legitimate reasons supported by
substantial evidence in the record for so doing.”
Id. at 830-31. “An ALJ can satisfy the
‘substantial evidence' requirement by
‘setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the
facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his
interpretation thereof, and making findings.'”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1011 (9th Cir.
2014) (quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725
(9th Cir. 1998)). “The contrary opinion of a
non-examining medical expert alone does not constitute a
specific, legitimate reason for rejecting a treating or
examining physician's opinion[.]” Tonapetyan v.
Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). Rather, a
non-examining opinion may constitute substantial evidence
only “when it is consistent with other independent
evidence in the record.” Id.
Dr. Duckert's 2012 Opinion
Archuleta contends the ALJ erred in rejecting Dr.
Duckert's 2012 opinion. The Court disagrees.
2012, otolaryngologist Dr. Duckert examined Mr. Archuleta and
noted that he “described an event in June 2010, which
was characterized by whirling disabling vertigo” and
that he has had “a residual disequilibrium since along
with a collection of other symptoms which are more difficult
to describe.” Tr. 336. Dr. Duckert performed extensive
vestibular testing which he found demonstrated “an
absent response to caloric stimulus of the left ear”
and concluded that Mr. Archuleta had “a significant
left peripheral vestibulopathy responsible for his
symptoms.” Id. Dr. Duckert opined that Mr.
Archuleta was able to sit for prolonged periods with
occasional pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls, could
sit for most of the day, walk or stand for brief periods,
could lift a maximum of 50 pounds and frequently lift or
carry 25 pounds and that participation in a rehabilitation