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Olivar v. Berryhill

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

October 27, 2017

WELILEH OLIVAR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Welileh Olivar 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. 6.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, for giving limited weight to the medical opinion evidence. Had the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence, 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of January 8, 2013. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 12. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 12. A hearing was held before ALJ Kimberly Boyce on August 10, 2015. AR 27-85. In a decision dated September 25, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 12-22. 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 1-3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons to reject the opinions of treating physician, Dr. Thomas Patamia, M.D., and examining physician, Dr. Alicia Jorgenson, M.D.; (2) assigning improper weight to the opinion of non-examining medical source, Dr. John Robinson, Ph.D.; (3) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject Plaintiff's testimony; and (4) failing to meet her burden at Step Five of the sequential evaluation process. Dkt. 11, pp. 1, 3-17.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant 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 Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff first argues the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, to reject evidence from Plaintiff's (1) treating behavioral health physician, Dr. Patamia; and (2) examining physician, Dr. Jorgenson. Dkt. 11, pp. 3-11.

         The ALJ 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 [her] 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)).

         A. Dr. Patamia

         Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred when she rejected the limitations assessed by treating physician, Dr. Patamia. Dkt. 11, pp. 3-9.

         Dr. Patamia provided Plaintiff with behavioral mental health treatment. See AR 372-81, 387-88 (treatment notes); see also AR 448-50, 464-66 (mental health reports). Dr. Patamia opined Plaintiff has severe social anxiety and severe body dysmorphic disorder, and exhibits “severe avoidance behaviors due to intense anxiety [and] panic attacks.” AR 450, 465. Consequently, Dr. Patamia opined Plaintiff has limitations in several areas of work-related activities, including a serious limitation in her ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision. AR 449, 465. Dr. Patamia further found Plaintiff “[u]nable to meet competitive standards” in her ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others, perform at a consistent pace without unreasonable rest periods, set realistic goals or make plans independently, and interact appropriately with the general public. AR 449-50, 465-66. Dr. Patamia also determined Plaintiff had “[n]o useful ability to function” in her punctuality and ability to maintain regular ...


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