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Mendieta v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 9, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.


          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR United States District Judge

         Matthew J. Mendieta seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. Mr. Mendieta contends the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in evaluating the medical opinions of Jessica B. Misner, M.D., David Widlan, Ph.D., Alex Fisher, Ph.D. and Gary L. Nelson, Ph.D. Dkt. 11. Mr. Mendieta contends that these errors resulted in a residual functional capacity (RFC) determination that failed to account for all of his limitations. Id. Mr. Mendieta further contends that this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings. Dkt. 11 at 16. 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. § 405(g).


         On October 30, 2010, Mr. Mendieta filed a Title II application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits and on October 17, 2012, filed a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income. Tr. 19, 231-51. Both applications allege disability as of April 12, 2010. Id. Mr. Mendieta's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 76-155. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on December 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Mendieta not disabled. Tr. 19, 40-75.


         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found:

Step one: Mr. Mendieta has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 12, 2010, the alleged onset date.
Step two: Mr. Mendieta has the following severe impairments: impaired strength in bilateral upper and lower extremities with no established etiology; impaired proprioception; pain and neuropathy in lower extremities without etiology; alcohol abuse with related insomnia; moderate depression; and anxiety.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[3]
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Mendieta can perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with some exceptions. He can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and can stand and/or walk about six hours, and sit about six hours, in an eight-hour day with normal breaks. He can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs and can frequently balance. He is able to tolerate occasional exposure to vibrating tools, machines and vehicles, should avoid dust, fumes, odors, gases, and poor ventilation, and should avoid hazardous working conditions such as proximity to unprotected heights and moving machinery. He is limited to tasks that can be learned in one year or less, is able to adapt to a predictable work routine with no more than occasional changes, and is limited to occasional and superficial interaction with the general public.
Step four: Mr. Mendieta can perform past relevant work as a buyer.
Step five: Alternatively, as there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Mendieta can perform, he is not disabled.

Tr. 19-33. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Mendieta's request for review making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-4.[4]


          A. Medical Evidence

         In 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 Commissioner may reject the opinion of a non-examining physician by reference to specific evidence in the medical record.” Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1998).

         1. Jessica ...

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