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Dyer v. Berryhill

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

June 6, 2017

KIMBERLY A. DYER, Dyer,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Kimberly A. Dyer brought this matter for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 22, 2013, Ms. Dyer filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging that she became disabled beginning January 1, 2000. Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (AR) 19. That application was denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ), at which Ms. Dyer appeared and testified, as did her husband and a vocational expert. AR 45-93.

         In a written decision dated December 1, 2014, the ALJ found that Ms. Dyer could perform her past relevant work, and in the alternative that she could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 19-39. Ms. Dyer's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on June 16, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-4; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Ms. Dyer then appealed that decision in a complaint filed with this Court on August 24, 2016. Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Ms. Dyer seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in evaluating the opinion evidence from Kimberly Wheeler, Ph.D., Phyllis Sanchez, Ph.D., Benjamin Aleshire, Ph.D., Craig Teveliet, M.D., Larry Harris, M.A., Jodi Taylor, M.A., and Casilda Jennings-Vigil, ARNP;
(2) in discounting Ms. Dyer's credibility;
(3) in considering her husband's lay testimony; and
(4) in assessing her residual functional capacity (RFC).

         For the reasons set forth below, however, the Court disagrees that the ALJ erred as alleged, and therefore affirms the decision to deny benefits.

         DISCUSSION

         This Court must uphold an ALJ's determination that a claimant is not disabled if the ALJ applied “proper legal standards” in weighing the evidence and making the determination and the “substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports” that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772 F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) (citing Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Sers., 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. “More than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a preponderance of the evidence is required.” Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975).

         This Court will thus uphold the ALJ's findings “if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. “If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, ” the ALJ's interpretation must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). “Where there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm the decision actually made.” Allen, 749 F.2d at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         I. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical and Other Opinion Evidence

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). If the evidence is inconclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts are functions solely of the [ALJ].” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such situations, “the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). Determining whether inconsistencies in the evidence “are material (or are in fact inconsistencies at all) and whether certain factors are relevant to discount” medical opinions “falls within this responsibility.” Id. at 603.

         In resolving questions of credibility and conflicts in the evidence, an ALJ's findings “must be supported by specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725. The ALJ can do this “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Id. The ALJ also may draw inferences “logically flowing from the evidence.” Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. Further, the Court itself may draw “specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755, (9th Cir. 1989).

         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). Even when a treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted, that opinion “can only be rejected for specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Id. at 830-31. However, the ALJ “need not discuss all evidence presented” to him or her. Vincent on Behalf of Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The ALJ must only explain why “significant probative evidence has been rejected.” Id.; see also Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706-07 (3rd Cir. 1981); Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 610 (7th Cir. 1984).

         In general, more weight is given to a treating physician's opinion than to the opinions of those who do not treat the claimant. See Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. On the other hand, an ALJ need not accept the opinion of a treating physician “if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings” or “by the record as a whole.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). An examining physician's opinion is “entitled to greater weight than the opinion of a nonexamining physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31. A nonexamining physician's opinion may constitute substantial evidence if “it is consistent with other independent evidence in the record.” Id. at 830-31; Tonapetyan, 242 F.3d at 1149.

         A. Opinion Evidence from ...


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