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Wyllie v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

October 2, 2017

TAYLOR L.M. WYLLIE, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Theresa L. Fricke, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Taylor L.M. Wyllie has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant’s denial of her applications for child’s disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits.


         Ms. Wyllie protectively applied for SSI on July 22, 2013. Dkt. 11, Administrative Record (“AR”) 13. On May 5, 2014, she applied for child’s insurance benefits based on disability. Id. Both applications alleged disability beginning July 11, 1995. Id. Ms. Wyllie later amended this alleged onset date to October 18, 2011. AR 38-39. Both applications were denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 13. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on February 11, 2015. AR 34-75. Ms. Wyllie, Mr. James Dumesnil, and a vocational expert appeared and testified. The ALJ found that the relevant date for determining disability was July 10, 2013, and neither party challenges this determination. AR 13.

         In a written decision on September 25, 2015, the ALJ found that Ms. Wyllie could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 13-28. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Wyllie’s request for review on January 25, 2017, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1. Ms. Wyllie appealed that decision in a complaint filed with this Court on March 2, 2017. Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         Ms. Wyllie seeks reversal of the ALJ’s decision and remand for an award of benefits, or in the alternative for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in evaluating the medical evidence in the record;
(2) in discounting Ms. Wyllie’s credibility;
(3) in rejecting lay witness evidence;
(4) in assessing Ms. Wyllie’s residual functional capacity; and
(5) in finding Ms. Wyllie could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ did not err as Ms. Wyllie alleges. Accordingly, the Court affirms the decision to deny benefits.


         The Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.520, 416.920. If the ALJ finds the claimant disabled or not disabled at any particular step, the ALJ makes the disability determination at that step and the sequential evaluation process ends. See id. At issue here is the ALJ’s weighing of different pieces of medical and opinion evidence, her discounting of Ms. Wyllie’s testimony, her weighing of lay testimony, and her resulting assessment of Ms. Wyllie’s RFC and conclusion that she can perform jobs in the national economy.

         This Court affirms an ALJ’s determination that a claimant is not disabled if the ALJ applied “proper legal standards” in weighing the evidence and making the determination and if “substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports” that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Trevizo v. Berryhill, No. 15-16277, 2017 WL 4053751, at *6 (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere scintilla,’” though “‘less than a preponderance’” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).

         This Court will thus uphold the ALJ’s findings if “inferences reasonably drawn from the record” support them. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, then this Court must uphold the ALJ’s interpretation. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984).

         I. The ALJ’s Evaluation of the Medical and Other Opinion Evidence

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the evidence is inconclusive, “‘questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts are functions solely of the [ALJ]’” and this Court will uphold those conclusions. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Waters v. Gardner, 452 F.2d 855, 858 n.7 (9th Cir. 1971)); Morgan v. Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). As part of this discretion, the ALJ determines whether inconsistencies in the evidence “are material (or are in fact inconsistencies at all) and whether certain factors are relevant” in deciding how to weigh medical opinions. Morgan, 169 F.3d at 603.

         The ALJ must support his or her findings with “specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725. To do so, the ALJ sets out “a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence,” interprets that evidence, and makes findings. Id. The ALJ does not need to discuss all the evidence the parties present but must explain the rejection of “significant probative evidence.” Vincent on Behalf of Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). The ALJ may draw inferences “logically flowing from the evidence.” Sample, 694 F.2d at ...

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