United States District Court, W.D. Washington
SARAH E. RUIZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER VACATING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
Sarah E. Ruiz filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the
parties consented to have this matter heard by the
undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 6.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she
failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of
treating physician Dr. Andrew Ayars, M.D. Had the ALJ
properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence, the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included
additional limitations. Therefore, the ALJ's error is
harmful and 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 hearing consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
November 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI,
alleging disability as of September 1, 2004. See
Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 17. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. AR 17. Plaintiff filed a written request
for a hearing on June 19, 2014. Id.
Mary Gallagher Dilley heard the matter on February 10, 2015.
See AR 29-60. In a decision dated May 26, 2015, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR
17-24. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
See AR 1-4; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, she maintains the ALJ erred
by: (I) failing to properly consider the medical opinion
evidence of treating physician Dr. Ayars; and (II) concluding
Plaintiff is capable of meeting the attendance tolerances of
employers. See Dkt. 11 at 2.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits 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
the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion
contends the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the medical
opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Ayars. Dkt. 11 at
5-9. Defendant asserts the ALJ gave the opinion the
appropriate weight based on the record as a whole. Dkt. 12 at
February 9, 2015, Dr. Ayars wrote a letter detailing his
medical opinion of Plaintiff's health limitations. AR
530. Therein, he stated he has treated Plaintiff since August
2013, and opined, “[f]rom an infectious standpoint, she
is at a much higher risk for severe, systemic infections than
the general population” because of her common variable
immunodeficiency. AR 530. He also opined that while
Plaintiff's recurrent infections have improved due to her
immunoglobulin replacement therapy, she requires antibiotics
periodically throughout the year and recently missed her
final examinations at Central Washington University
(“CW”) due to a hospitalization. AR 530. Dr.
Ayars further stated Plaintiff requires “chronic
prednisone” which can have long-term detrimental health
effects. AR 530.
Dr. Ayars stated, “while the goal for patients”
like Plaintiff is “to lead normal lives, this is often
difficult given the infectious and rheumatologic issues that
these patients experience.” AR 530. With Plaintiff in
particular, Dr. Ayars opined that Plaintiff's severe
previous infectious issues and her granulomatous lymphocytic
interstitial lung disease would “interfere with her
ability to maintained [sic] regular attendance both in school
and in the workplace.” AR 530. He then concluded,
“[w]hile it is impossible to ...