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Mattison v. Berryhill

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

May 23, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Deanna Mattison 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. 14.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly analyzed the medical opinion evidence and Plaintiff's credibility. As the ALJ's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of October 31, 2013. See Dkt. 15, Administrative Record (“AR.”) 196-203, 217. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR. 144-46, 159-60. A hearing was held before ALJ Kelly Wilson on July 10, 2015. See AR. 28. In a decision dated August 28, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR. 28-401. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on October 12, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR. 1-4; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to: (1) fully consider medical evidence relating to Plaintiff's physical limitations; (2) provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony; (3) properly evaluate Plaintiff's RFC; and 4) meet the burden of showing there were other jobs in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. Dkt. 17, p. 2.


         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)).


         I. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinions.

         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)). In doing so, the ALJ “has an independent ‘duty to fully and fairly develop the record and to assure that the claimant's interests are considered.'” Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1288 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Consultative examiner, Dr. James Symonds, M.D., conducted a thorough examination and clinical interview with Plaintiff on February 19, 2014. AR. 367-372. Dr. Symonds noted Plaintiff's history of low back pain, right wrist pain, right knee pain, neck and suprascapular pain, and left fourth finger pain. AR. 367-68. He further found Plaintiff had postural limitations of stooping, kneeling and crouching, and manipulative limitations of reaching with the bilateral shoulders. AR. 372. Based on his assessment, Dr. Symonds opined that Plaintiff could perform light work such as, “lift[ing] and carry[ing] 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently[, ] stand[ing] and walk[ing] for 6 hours in an eight hour day[, and] sit[ting] for 6 hours in an eight hour day.” Id. Reviewing physician, Dr. Charles Wolfe, M.D. affirmed Dr. Symonds' conclusions, also opining that Plaintiff has a maximum sustained work capability for performing light work. AR. 124.

         The ALJ gave little weight to Drs. Symonds and Wolfe's opinions finding they were inconsistent (1) with Plaintiff's testimony regarding her limitations; and (2) with Plaintiff's activities of daily living. AR. 37.

         First, the ALJ assigned little weight to these opinions because Plaintiff “did not make any allegations of significant physical or manipulative limitations in either her application materials [or] at the hearing.”AR. 37 (citing AR. 27-76, 46-82). Plaintiff concedes this to be true but also contends that “she did indicate in her Function Report that she experienced back and knee pain as well as tendonitis in her wrists.” Dkt. 17, p.6 (citing, TAR at 6 (sic)). While Plaintiff's historic physical limitations may appear in a function report, the ALJ correctly indicated that Plaintiff's application materials and hearing transcript do not include these impairments. See AR. ...

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