United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff LaChapelle-Banks'
Complaint [Dkt. 3] for review of the Social Security
Commissioner's denial of her application for disability
suffers from lumbar sprain/strain, status post laminectomy,
and colitis or Crohn's disease. See Dkt. 7,
Administrative Record 11. She applied for disability
insurance benefits in September 2013, alleging she became
disabled beginning in July 2013. See AR 9. That
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See id. A hearing was held
before Administrative Law Judge Timothy Mangrum in January
2015. See id. LaChapelle-Banks, represented by
counsel, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert.
See AR 28-69.
determined LaChapelle-Banks not to be disabled. See
AR 6-27. The Appeals Council denied LaChapelle-Banks'
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. See
AR 1-4; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. In January 2017,
LaChapelle-Banks filed a complaint seeking judicial review of
the Commissioner's decision. See Dkt. 3.
argues the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
should be reversed and remanded for an immediate award of
benefits, or for further administrative proceedings, because
the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence in the
record and in finding at step five of the sequential
evaluation process that LaChapelle-Banks could perform work
available in the national economy.
Commissioner argues the ALJ did not err in evaluating the
medical evidence, so the ALJ's finding that
LaChapelle-Banks was not disabled was supported by
substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld by the Court if the Commissioner
applied the “proper legal standards” and if
“substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports” that determination. See Hoffman v.
Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see
also Batson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772
F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) (“A decision
supported by substantial evidence will, nevertheless, be set
aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in
weighing the evidence and making the decision.”)
(citing Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987)).
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 (“[T]he Commissioner's findings are upheld if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.”). “The substantial evidence test
requires that the reviewing court determine” whether
the Commissioner's decision is “supported by 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). “If the evidence admits of more than
one rational interpretation, ” the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d
577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (“Where there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm
the decision actually made.”) (quoting Rhinehart v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
The Medical Evidence in the Record.
determines credibility and resolves ambiguities and conflicts
in the medical evidence. See Reddick v. Chater, 157
F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the medical evidence in
the record is not conclusive, “questions of credibility
and resolution of conflicts” are solely the functions
of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642
(9th Cir. 1982). In such cases, “the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999).
Determining whether inconsistencies in the medical evidence
“are material (or are in fact inconsistencies at all)
and whether certain factors are relevant to discount”
the opinions of medical experts “falls within this
responsibility.” Id. at 603.
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 may draw
“specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's
opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
755 (9th Cir. 1989).
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of a treating physician.
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996).
Even when a treating 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. 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 Id. at 830.
argues the ALJ erred by failing to give a specific and
legitimate reason supported by substantial evidence to
discount the opinion of treating physician ...