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Poulin v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2017

DAVID POULIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff David Poulin filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's applications for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 6.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of treating physicians Drs. Nicholas Heath, DPM and Douglas Beaman, MD and treating nurses Victoria Wright, ARNP and Bruce Lanum, ARNP. Had the ALJ properly considered this medical opinion evidence, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore harmful, and this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of May 5, 2013. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 196-203, 217. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 107-123. A hearing was held before ALJ James W. Sherry on February 12, 2015. See AR 11. In a decision dated March 25, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 11-21. 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. See AR 2-4; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred when he failed to: (1) provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinions of Drs. Nicholas Heath, DPM and Douglas Beaman, MD; (2) provide germane reasons for rejecting the opinions of Nurses Victoria Wright, ARNP and Bruce Lanum, ARNP; (3) provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony; and (4) meet the burden of showing there were other jobs in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. Dkt. 11, p. 1.

         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)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinions.

         A. Drs. Nicholas Heath, DPM and Douglas Beaman, MD, and Nurse Bruce Lanum, ARNP

         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 clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         Plaintiff's treating podiatrist, Dr. Nicholas Heath, provided an opinion letter in response to a request from Plaintiff's representative on July 22, 2014. AR 365-368. Dr. Heath opined that as a result of Plaintiff's injuries, Plaintiff has continued to suffer from severe pain in his feet at a level that interferes with his focus and from ongoing swelling of his lower extremities to the point he was instructed to elevate his feet several times per day for one and a half to two hours. AR 365-6. Dr. Heath further opined that Plaintiff's complaints are consistent with his diagnosis and, on a more likely than not basis, Plaintiff would be absent three or more days per month if he were to perform full-time work at any exertional level. AR 367. Dr. Heath specifically provided Plaintiff “will have chronic pain that will require rest often with his daily activities.” Id. Plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Douglas Beaman, affirmed and agreed with Dr. Heath's opinion in its entirety. AR 460-62. Bruce Lanum, ARNP also affirmed and agreed with Dr. Heath's opinion in its entirety. AR 609-11.[2]

         The ALJ gave little weight to Drs. Heath and Beaman and Nurse Lanum's opinions finding their opinions were inconsistent (1) with the totality of the evidence in the record; and ...


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