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Madison v. Berryhill

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

May 2, 2017

EVANS L MADISON SR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Evans L. Madison, Sr. filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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. 8.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Timothy Joos, M.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr. Joos' opinion, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. Therefore, the ALJ's error is harmful and this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of October 1, 2013. See Dkt. 11, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 20. A hearing was held before ALJ Timothy Mangrum on February 26, 2015. See AR 38-61. In a decision dated April 28, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 20-32. 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 1-6, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In the Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ failed to: (1) provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion of treating physician Dr. Timothy Joos, M.D.; (2) provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective testimony not entirely credible; (3) properly consider the limitation that Plaintiff would be off-task 10% of the time; and (4) properly find Plaintiff not disabled at Step Five of the sequential evaluation process. Dkt. 13, 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 opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for giving very little weight to the June 2014 opinion of treating physician Dr. Timothy Joos. Dkt. 13, pp. 4-6. Dr. Joos also completed a Functional Assessment of Plaintiff in March of 2013 and wrote a letter outlining Plaintiff's medical problems on September 18, 2014. AR 422-23, 550. Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's decision to give limited weight to the March 2013 and September 2014 opinions. See Dkt. 13.

         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)).

         Dr. Joos completed a Physical Functional Evaluation of Plaintiff on June 12, 2014. AR 579-81. Dr. Joos stated Plaintiff suffered from left leg weakness, left foot drop, seizure disorder, Raynaud's phenomenon, and pain in his left hip and leg. AR 579. He opined Plaintiff's handling and reaching is severely limited and Plaintiff must avoid exposing his hands to cold temperatures due to Raynaud's phenomenon. AR 580. Dr. Joos also found Plaintiff is severely limited in his ability to stand, walk, lift, carry, push, pull, and stoop because of his seizure disorder and left leg and foot weakness. AR 580. He opined Plaintiff is unable to meet the demands of sedentary work. AR 581.

         The ALJ discussed Dr. Joos' March 2013 and September 2014 opinions, explaining the weight given to these two opinions. AR 29. Then, in considering Dr. ...


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