United States District Court, W.D. Washington
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. 5.
reviewing the record, the Court concludes the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to properly
evaluate the medical opinion evidence. Therefore, the
ALJ's decision is vacated, and this case is reversed and
remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
for further proceedings.
August 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB.
See Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (“AR”)
144-45. Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on June 30,
2012, due to recurrent patellar dislocations/subluxations,
arthritis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
(“OCD”). See AR 144, 168.
Plaintiff's application was denied upon initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR
61-83. A hearing was held before an ALJ on July 1, 2015, at
which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and
testified. See AR 37.
October 18, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the
Social Security Act. AR 28. Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals
Council on December 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 January 7, 2017,
Plaintiff 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 improperly evaluated
the opinions of two treating physicians, one examining
physician, and two state agency medical consultants. Dkt. 9,
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
Morgan Carlson, M.D.
Carlson examined Plaintiff on May 4, 2014. AR 263. Dr.
Carlson noted Plaintiff had a history of bilateral knee pain
secondary to dislocating patella and chondromalacia, with
positive MRI findings for chondromalacia. AR 263. Plaintiff
experienced bilateral patella dislocations every few months,
with increasing frequency and duration of symptoms as she
aged. AR 263. On examination, Plaintiff demonstrated full
range of motion and 5/5 strength in all upper and lower
extremities, except for 4/5 hip flexion/knee extension
bilaterally. AR 265. Plaintiff demonstrated tenderness to
palpation in her medial and lateral joint lines, however Dr.
Carlson was unable to conduct ...