United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.
Anne Jedidi-Standley filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of Plaintiff's application for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR
13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by
the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 5.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported
by substantial evidence, for giving limited weight to the
medical opinions of Drs. Mary Lemberg, M.D., and Dana Harmon,
Ph.D. Had the ALJ properly considered the opinions of these
two doctors, the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) may have included additional limitations.
The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless, and this
matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
18, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging
disability as of April 15, 2010. See Dkt. 7,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 147. The application
was denied upon initial administrative review and
reconsideration. See AR 147. Plaintiff has had three
ALJ hearings. The first hearing was held before ALJ Rebekah
Ross on May 16, 2012. AR 40-85. In a decision dated September
14, 2012, ALJ Ross determined Plaintiff to be not disabled.
AR 144-62. Plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's decision was granted by the Appeals Council, which
vacated ALJ Ross's hearing decision and remanded
Plaintiff's claim to the ALJ. AR 168-71.
received a second hearing before ALJ Ross on April 23, 2014.
See AR 86-113. On May 12, 2014, the ALJ granted a
partially favorable decision, finding Plaintiff disabled as
of July 1, 2013, her 50th birthday. AR 7-30. 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 1276-78; 20
C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. Plaintiff appealed to
the United States District Court for the Western District of
Washington, which remanded the case for further proceedings.
See AR 1289-1300; Jedidi v. Colvin, 2016 WL
1470201 (W.D. Wash. April 15, 2016).
received a third hearing before ALJ S. Andrew Grace on
September 13, 2016. AR 1207-23. In a decision dated January
13, 2017, ALJ Grace found Plaintiff disabled as of July 1,
2013. AR 1174-98. Plaintiff did not file written exceptions
with the Appeals Council, making the September 13, 2016
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.981, § 416.1481. Plaintiff now appeals ALJ
Grace's January 13, 2017 decision.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons,
supported by substantial evidence, to reject the medical
opinions of: (1) Dr. Mary Lemberg, M.D.; and (2) Dr. Dana
Harmon. Dkt. 9, p. 3.
the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of July 1, 2013, the
relevant time period for this case is the alleged onset date
- April 15, 2010 - through the date prior to the finding of
disability - June 30, 2013. Id.
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
Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion
argues the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the opinion
evidence from examining physicians Drs. Lemberg and Harmon.
Dkt. 9, pp. 3-10.
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) (citing Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908
F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990); Embrey v. Bowen, 849
F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)). When a treating or examining
physician's opinion is contradicted, the opinion can be
rejected “for specific and legitimate reasons that are
supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31 (citing Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 1995); Murray
v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)). 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 v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)).
maintains the ALJ erred when he failed to include in the RFC
all limitations assessed by examining physician Dr. Lemberg.
Dkt. 9, pp. 3-8, 11.
Lemberg conducted a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation of
Plaintiff on December 2, 2010. AR 596-603. After her
examination, Dr. Lemberg ascertained the following:
The claimant does have the ability to perform simple and
repetitive tasks, and would not have difficulty completing
detailed and complex tasks, based upon her performance on the
mental status exam. The claimant would find it difficult to
adapt to new environments based on our interview today and
mental status exam. The claimant demonstrated impairments
today with short-term memory and calculation. The claimant
would not have difficulty accepting instructions from
supervisors, but would have some difficulty interacting with
co-workers and the public. The claimant can attend work on a
consistent basis, though would be limited in the tasks she
could do from psychiatric and physical reasons. The claimant
could not complete a normal workday or workweek without
problematic interruption from her psychiatric conditions. The
degree of her tearfulness and perseveration would be barriers
to employment and is impacting her daily functioning. I
anticipate the claimant to have significant difficulty
dealing with the usual stress encountered in a competitive
gave significant weight to Dr. Lemberg's determinations
that Plaintiff could perform simple and repetitive tasks,
work consistently, and accept instructions from supervisors.
AR 1192. He also gave significant weight to Dr. Lemberg's
finding that Plaintiff would have problems interacting with
coworkers and the public. AR 1192. However, the ALJ gave
little weight to various other parts of Dr. Lemberg's
assessment, which Plaintiff challenges. See AR
1192-93; Dkt. 9, pp. 3-8.
provided five points for discrediting Dr. Lemberg's
opinion. First, the ALJ stated:
Little weight is given to the assessment that the claimant
would have difficulty adapting to new environments, that she
would be limited in completing tasks due to psychiatric and
physical reasons, that she would be unable to complete a
normal workday or workweek without interruptions from her
psychiatric conditions and that tearfulness and preservation
as well as stress would limit the claimant's ability to
perform work activities. These findings are subjective and
based mostly on the claimant's ...