United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
TERI L. NELSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
L. Strombom United States Magistrate Judge
has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.
The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the
undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that
defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed,
and that this matter should be remanded for further
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 13, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI
benefits, alleging in both applications that she became
disabled beginning December 31, 2006. Dkt. 10, Administrative
Record (AR), 11. Both applications were denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. At
a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert.
AR 29-79. Also at the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged
onset date of disability to November 8, 2011. AR 11.
written decision dated February 27, 2015, the ALJ found that
plaintiff could perform both her past relevant work and other
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy,
and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 11-23. On June
27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review of the ALJ's decision, making that decision
the final decision of the Commissioner, which plaintiff then
appealed in a complaint with this Court on July 26, 2016. AR
1; Dkt. 1-3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an
award of benefits, or in the alternative for further
administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:
(1) in evaluating the medical opinion evidence from Terilee
Wingate, Ph.D., Dan Neims, Psy.D., and Brian VanFossen,
(2) in discounting plaintiff's credibility;
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(4) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy.
reasons set forth below, the Court agrees the ALJ erred in
evaluating the medical opinion evidence from Drs. Wingate,
Neims, and VanFossen, and thus in assessing plaintiff's
RFC and in finding she can perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, but finds that
remand for further administrative proceedings, rather than an
award of benefits, is warranted.
Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld 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 Soc. 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 nevertheless will be set
aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in
weighing the evidence and making the decision.”
Carr, 772 F.Supp. at 525 (citing Brawner v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Sers., 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.
Commissioner's findings will be upheld “if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Substantial
evidence requires the Court to determine whether the
Commissioner's determination 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, ” that decision must be
upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th
Cir. 1984). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the
Court “must affirm the decision actually made.”
Allen, 749 F.2d at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Opinion
is responsible for determining credibility and resolving
ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir.
1998). Where the evidence is inconclusive, “questions
of credibility and resolution of conflicts are functions
solely of the [ALJ].” Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such situations, “the
ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v.
Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601
(9th Cir. 1999). Determining whether inconsistencies in the
evidence “are material (or are in fact ...