United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
TARA J. ROUGHT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER
Richard A. Jones United States District Judge
Rought seeks review of the denial of her application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Ms. Rought contends the
ALJ erred in: (1) misevaluating the opinions of several
treating and examining doctors; and (2) giving greater weight
to the opinions of non-examining doctors than treating and
examining opinions. Dkt. 12. Ms. Rought contends these errors
resulted in a residual functional capacity (RFC)
determination that failed to account for all of her
limitations. Id. at 15-16. As relief, Ms. Rought
requests that this matter be reversed and remanded for
payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further
administrative proceedings. Id. at 1. As discussed
below, the Court REVERSES the
Commissioner's final decision and
REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
28, 2009, Ms. Rought applied for benefits, alleging
disability as of May 14, 2009. Tr. 20, 140-43, 155. Ms.
Rought's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 103. After the ALJ conducted a hearing
on January 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms.
Rought not disabled. Tr. 429-55.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Ms. Rought has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since July 28, 2009, the
Step two: Ms. Rought has the following
severe impairments: affective disorder, post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and a
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Rought can
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations: she can
perform simple, repetitive tasks. She can concentrate for two
hours at a time with usual and customary breaks throughout an
eight-hour workday. She can work superficially and
occasionally with the general public. She can work in the
same room with an unlimited number of coworkers but not in
coordination with them; with this limitation, it is expected
that the claimant can maintain appropriate behavior in the
workplace, and not be a distraction to her co-workers. The
claimant can interact superficially with co-workers and can
interact occasionally with supervisors and, with this
limitation, the claimant can accept criticism and respond
appropriately. She can make simple workplace judgments
consistent with simple, repetitive work. With these
limitations, that she can tolerate the pressures of work and
maintain attendance and punctuality.
Step four: Ms. Rought cannot perform past
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Rought
can perform, she is not disabled.
Tr. 429-45. Ms. Rought filed a complaint with this Court
appealing the ALJ's decision. Dkt. 3.
must provide “clear and convincing reasons” to
reject the uncontradicted opinion of a treating or examining
doctor. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830, 831 (9th
Cir. 1996). When contradicted, a treating or examining
doctor's opinion may not be rejected without
“specific and legitimate reasons” that are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Id.
Cheryl O. Hart, Psy.D.
Hart examined Ms. Rought in 2009. Tr. 339-43. She opined Ms.
Rought had “sufficient persistence, pace, and
concentration to succeed in a competitive workplace provided
that she works in a low-stress, low anxiety workplace doing
non-mathematical tasks. She is considered, at a minimum,
capable of performing simple, repetitive tasks out of direct
contact with the public with minimal to moderate contact with
coworkers.” Tr. 343.
gave “great weight” to Dr. Hart's opinion but
failed to either include Dr. Hart's restriction to
low-stress jobs in the RFC or provide a specific and
legitimate reason for rejecting such limitation. Tr. 440.
This was error. Contrary to the Commissioner's argument,
the other limitations to simple, repetitive tasks out of
direct contact with the public with minimal to moderate
contact with coworkers does not adequately account for Dr.
Hart's separate limitation to a low-stress or low-anxiety
workplace. As indicated in Social Security Ruling 85-15:
The reaction to the demands of work (stress) is highly
individualized, and mental illness is characterized by
adverse responses to seemingly trivial circumstances. The
mentally impaired may cease to function effectively when
facing such demands as getting to work regularly, having
their performance supervised, and remaining in the workplace
for a full day....Any impairment-related limitations created
by an individual's response to demands of work... must be
reflected in the RFC assessment.
SSR 85-15, available at 1985 WL 56857 at *6; see
Sampson v. Colvin, 2015 WL 5024076 at *3 (W.D. Wash.
Aug. 25, 2015) (ALJ erred in failing to address doctor's
limitation to “low stress” jobs, RFC limitation
to simple, routine jobs did not adequately account for the
limitation); Mostafavinassab v. Colvin, 2016 WL
4547129 at *9 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 1, 2016). The ALJ erred in
failing to address Dr. Hart's low-stress restriction
entirely. See Marsh v. Colvin, 7 ...