United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
AMENDED ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER AND
DISMISSING THE CASE
A. TSUCHIDA United States Magistrate Judge.
Court issues this Amended Order to address deficiencies
contained in its Order dated June 5, 2017, Dkt. 15. As
discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
Walter Gill seeks review of the denial of his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits. He contends the ALJ erred by
rejecting the medical opinion of Mary Lemberg, M.D. Dkt. 12.
Gill is currently 33 years old, has at least a high school
education, and has worked as an electrician; inspector,
quality assurance; and help desk representative. Tr. 26, 27,
38. On November 5, 2015, he applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of August 6, 2015. Tr. 13. His applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration. Id.
The ALJ conducted a hearing on August 4, 2016, at which time
the alleged onset date of disability was amended to January
1, 2015. Id. The ALJ ultimately found Mr. Gill not
disabled. Tr. 28.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found Mr.
Gill met the insured status requirements through December 31,
2020; had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
August 6, 2015; and he had severe impairments of sleep apnea,
shoulder abnormalities, degenerative disc disease, cervical
myalgia, bilateral foot abnormalities, knee arthritis,
compartment syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder,
persistent depressive disorder, panic disorder, rule out mild
neurocognitive disorder, rule out learning disorder, and rule
out attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Tr. 15. The ALJ
found Mr. Gill has the RFC to perform medium work that does
not require more than frequent balancing, stooping kneeling,
crouching, crawling, or climbing; that does not require more
than occasional overhead reaching or working; and that is low
stress, meaning it consists of simple, routine tasks, and it
does not require more than occasional interaction with the
general public or coworkers. Tr. 18. The ALJ further found
Mr. Gill could not perform any past relevant work but that he
could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy. Tr. 26-27. As the Appeals Council
denied Mr. Gill's request for review, the ALJ's
decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6.
Gill contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of
examining doctor Mary Lemberg. Dr. Lemberg completed a
comprehensive psychiatric evaluation on March 14, 2016. Tr.
973-79. The doctor found Mr. Gill could
perform simple tasks, though he would likely continue to
struggle with more complex tasks due to a combination of his
anxiety, depression, and cognitive limitations. He would have
occasional difficulty adapting to new environments. . . He
would have difficulty comprehending and recalling
instructions from others . . . He would struggle to perform
work activities on a consistent basis due to his psychiatric
conditions. I anticipate he would have moderate difficulty
dealing with the usual stress encountered in a work
environment. . . He might be more capable of more simple
tasks that do not worsen his underlying anxiety and
cognitions, though he would greatly struggle to handle the
stressors accompanying more complex tasks given the mix of
cognitive limitations, anxiety and depression.
Tr. 978-79. The ALJ assigned the opinions “some
weight” and “accepted” the doctor's
opinion that Mr. Gill would struggle to perform work
activities on a consistent basis. Tr. 25. Nevertheless, the
ALJ noted that opinion did not “delineate the degree of
struggle, ” before observing the doctor “did
discuss increased struggle with more complex tasks, with
greater instruction, and with greater social interaction,
” and concluding “[t]his is consistent that
[sic] the claimant could persist at less demanding
tasks and the claimant is limited from such complexity, need
for instruction, and interaction.” Tr. 25.
Work Activities on a Consistent Basis
parties' arguments highlight their differing
interpretations of both Dr. Lemberg's opinion, and the
ALJ's decision regarding that opinion. At base, the
parties dispute whether Dr. Lemberg opined Mr. Gill would
struggle to perform all, or only complex
work activities on a consistent basis. The Court finds the
ALJ did not err in concluding Dr. Lemberg opined that Mr.
Gill could not perform complex work activities on a
Gill contends the ALJ expressly stated he accepted the
doctor's opinion that he would struggle to perform work
activities on a consistent basis, but failed to fashion a RFC
assessment incorporating that limitation. Dkts. 12 at 3, 14
at 2. He therefore concludes the ALJ failed to provide
“specific and legitimate” reasons for rejecting
the opinion as required by Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d
821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996). Dkt. 12 at 2. The Commissioner
contends the ALJ incorporated the doctor's assessment in
limiting him to simple tasks after resolving an ambiguity
within the doctor's opinion. Dkt. 13 at 3-4. The Court
agrees with the Commissioner that this is what the ALJ did.
The ALJ's discussion clearly signals he found the opinion
ambiguous, and this is why he assigned it only “some
weight.” The ALJ recognized Dr. Lemberg discussed
performing both simple and complex tasks, but when she stated
Mr. Gill would “struggle to perform work activities on
a consistent basis, ” that statement lacked detail. Tr.
25 (finding the statement “does not delineate the
degree of struggle”). The ALJ then resolved the
ambiguity by noting the following: 1) Dr. Lemberg discussed
“increased struggle” in connection with more
complex tasks; and 2) a finding that Mr. Gill would struggle
to perform more complex work activities on a
consistent basis would be consistent with the doctor's
finding Mr. Gill could carry out less demanding tasks. Tr.
25. In short, the ALJ reasoned that the doctor's opinion
Mr. Gill would “struggle to perform work activities on
a consistent basis” was applicable only to work
requiring performance of complex tasks. The inquiry is thus
whether the ALJ's interpretation of the doctor's
opinion was erroneous.
Gill contends that because Dr. Lemberg opined he would
“greatly” struggle with complex tasks,
statement that he would merely “struggle” (i.e.,
rather than “greatly” struggle) to “perform
work activities on a consistent basis” shows the doctor
intended that the limitation apply to work activities that
are also less than complex. Dkt. 12 at 4. But Mr. Gill's
deductive reasoning is flawed because it fails to consider a
fact that would support the opposite conclusion: Dr. Lemberg
also found Mr. Gill could “perform simple tasks, though
he would likely continue to struggle with more ...