United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
TRICIA A.K. BARTLETT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.
filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 405(g),
seeking judicial review of the denial of Plaintiff's
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). The parties have consented to proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge. See 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate
Judge Rule MJR 13. See also Consent to Proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 17.
reviewing the record, the Court concludes the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to properly
evaluate the medical opinion evidence. Therefore, the Court
orders the Commissioner's final decision be vacated in
its entirety and this matter remanded pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for a de novo
& FACTUAL HISTORY
April 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB.
See Dkt. 10, Administrative Record
(“AR”) 324-25. Plaintiff alleges she became disabled
on September 8, 2007, due to lower back nerve damage, plantar
fasciitis, and adult attention deficit-hyperactivity
disorder. See AR 324, 339. Plaintiff's
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 138, 153. A hearing was
held before an ALJ on August 8, 2012, at which Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, appeared and testified. See
November 23, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the
Social Security Act. AR 183. Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision was granted by the Appeals
Council, which vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded
for further proceedings. The ALJ conducted a second hearing,
and on July 17, 2015, the ALJ again found Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of
the Social Security Act. AR 37. Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's second decision was denied by the
Appeals Council on June 13, 2016, making that decision the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”). See AR 1, 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.981, § 416.1481. On August 17, 2016,
Plaintiff timely filed a complaint in this Court seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.
argues the denial of benefits should be reversed and remanded
for further proceedings, because the ALJ: 1) failed to
properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence; 2) erred by
rejecting her subjective symptom testimony; 3) failed to
properly evaluate the lay witness testimony; and 4)
improperly found Plaintiff was capable of performing other
work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
Dkt. 14, p. 2.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits only 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)). “Substantial evidence” is
more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such
“‘relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir.
1989) (quoting Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323,
325-26 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Whether the ALJ Properly Evaluated the Medical Opinion
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician or psychologist. 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)). However, “[i]n order to discount the opinion of
an examining physician in favor of the opinion of a
nonexamining medical advisor, the ALJ must set forth
specific, legitimate reasons that are supported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Nguyen v.
Chater, 100 F.3d 1462, 1466 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing
Lester, 81 F.3d at 831). 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, 881 F.2d at 751). In addition,
the ALJ must explain why the ALJ's own interpretations,
rather than those of the doctors, are correct.
Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725 (citing Embrey,
849 F.2d at 421-22). The ALJ “may not reject
‘significant probative evidence' without
explanation.” Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562,
570-71 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Vincent v. Heckler,
739 F.2d 1393, 1395 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Cotter v.
Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706-07 (3d Cir. 1981))). The
“ALJ's written decision must state reasons for
disregarding [such] evidence.” Flores, 49 F.3d
Application of Standard
Dennis S. Mann, D.O.
Mann was Plaintiff's primary care physician from July,
2007 through Plaintiff's date last insured, December 31,
2012. AR 690. Over the course of his treatment, Dr. Mann
rendered several opinions as to limitations arising out of
Plaintiff's mental and physical impairments:
• On September 16, 2008, Dr. Mann opined Plaintiff was
“unable to perform any type of full-time gainful
employment” due to her bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome
and an inability to sit for a period longer than 30 minutes.
• On June 7, 2011, based on the fact Plaintiff
“walks with a wide-based, unstable gait wearing CAM
walkers on both feet, ” Dr. Mann recommended Plaintiff
use a cane. AR 645.
• On August 13, 2012, Dr. Mann opined Plaintiff would be
unable to walk, sit, and stand for prolonged periods, and
this would preclude her from any type of gainful employment.
• On March 25, 2013, Dr. Mann opined Plaintiff would be
incapable of any form of gainful employment because of her
inability to sit for prolonged periods, walk for even short
periods, stand for short periods, climb or descend stairs,
push, pull, lift, or carry. AR 701.
• On September 26, 2013, Dr. Mann also opined
Plaintiff's psychological issues contribute to her
inability to work. AR 699.
gave little weight to Dr. Mann's opinions for several
reasons. First, as to Dr. Mann's recommendation ...