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Hamilton Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 1, 2017

JACQUELINE K. HAMILTON JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR United States District Judge

         Jacqueline K. Hamilton Johnson seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Ms. Johnson contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinions of: (1) Jamie Phifer, M.D.; (2) Jennifer Azen, M.D.; and, (3) Jay Wellington, M.S.W. Dkt. 12. Ms. Johnson contends these errors resulted in a residual functional capacity (RFC) determination that failed to account for all of her limitations. Id. Ms. Johnson contends this matter should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Dkt. 12 at 18. 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).

         BACKGROUND

         In December 2012, Ms. Johnson applied for benefits, alleging disability as of November 29, 2012. Tr. 14, 217-226. Ms. Johnson's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 14, 144-147, 151-155. After the ALJ conducted a hearing on March 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Johnson not disabled. Tr. 14-27.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

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

Step one: Ms. Johnson has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 29, 2012, the alleged onset date.
Step two: Ms. Johnson has the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder vs. depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; history of bilateral rotator cuff tears, status-post distal clavicle excision of right shoulder and bilateral open acromioplasties; and cervical degenerative disc disease.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[3]
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Johnson can perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she cannot reach overhead. Ms. Johnson cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards. She can perform simple, routine tasks and follow short simple instructions. Ms. Johnson can do work that needs little or no judgment and can perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period. Ms. Johnson would have an average ability to perform sustained work activities (i.e. can maintain attention and concentration; persistence and pace) in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule) within customary tolerances of employers rules regarding sick leave and absence. Ms. Johnson needs a work environment that is predictable and with few work setting changes.
Step four: Ms. Johnson cannot perform past relevant work.
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Johnson can perform, she is not disabled.

Tr. 14-27. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Johnson's request for review making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6.[4]

         DISCUSSION

         A. Medical Opinion 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. 1995). 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)). In order to reject the opinion of a provider who is not an acceptable medical source, the ALJ ...


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