United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
THERESA L. FRICKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Elliott Boldt has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of his application for disability
insurance 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
Boldt seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for
further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred in
evaluating the medical opinion evidence. Specifically, Mr.
Boldt contends that the ALJ erred by failing to consider the
opinion evidence of an examining physician, Dr. John Kooiker,
M.D., and a treating psychologist, Dr. Carole DeMarco, Ph.D.
Dkt. 11, pp. 2-7. Mr. Boldt also argues the ALJ's failure
to properly evaluate the medical evidence caused further
error because the error in assessing medical evidence led to
error in determining Mr. Boldt's RFC, and also led to
error in finding Mr. Boldt could perform other jobs existing
in significant numbers in the national economy. Dkt. 11, p.
7. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees.
Accordingly, the Court will reverse the decision to deny
benefits and remand for further administrative proceedings.
December 10, 2012, Mr. Boldt filed an application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging that he became disabled beginning October 25, 2005.
Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (AR) 13. That application was
denied on initial administrative review and on
reconsideration. Id. A hearing was held before an
administrative law judge (ALJ) in June 2014. AR 55-88. Mr.
Boldt appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. AR
13. In a written decision in August 2014, the ALJ found that
Mr. Boldt could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy and therefore was not disabled. AR
Appeals Council later vacated that decision and remanded it
to the ALJ. AR 13. On remand, the ALJ held another hearing,
on March 22, 2016. AR 89-125. Mr. Boldt testified again, as
did a vocational expert. Id. In a written decision
on August 19, 2016, the ALJ again found that Mr. Boldt could
perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy and therefore was not disabled. AR 13-32. The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Boldt's request for review on February
10, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. AR 1. Mr. Boldt then appealed that decision
in a complaint filed with this Court on March 28, 2017. Dkt.
1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
STANDARD AND SCOPE OF REVIEW
Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation
process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.520. 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
evidence and his resulting assessment of Mr. Boldt's RFC
and conclusion that Mr. Boldt could perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy.
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, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 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). In reviewing
the record, the Court must weigh both the evidence that
supports the Commissioner's decision and evidence that
detracts from that decision, considering the record as a
whole. Id. at 675. The Court's scope of review
is limited to the reasons provided by the ALJ in his or her
decision; the Court may not affirm on a ground that the ALJ
did not rely upon. Id.
Court will 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 may 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).
MEDICAL OPINION EVIDENCE
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. Morgan v.
Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601
(9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982)). 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. Id. at 603.
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 642. And the Court itself may
draw “specific and legitimate inferences from the
ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989).
medical opinion of a claimant's treating physician is
given ‘controlling weight' so long as it ‘is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the claimant's] case
record.'” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2);
Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 675. In general, the ALJ gives
more weight to a treating physician's opinion than to the
opinions of physicians who do not treat the claimant. See
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996).
Nonetheless, an ALJ need not accept a treating
physician's opinion that “is brief, conclusory, and
inadequately supported by clinical findings” or
“by the record as a whole.” Batson, 359
F.3d at 1195; see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d
947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242
F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001).
reject the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician, an ALJ must provide “clear and
convincing” reasons. Revels v. Berryhill, 874
F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). When other evidence
contradicts the treating or examining physician's
opinion, the ALJ must still provide “specific and
legitimate reasons, ” supported by substantial
evidence, to reject that opinion. Trevizo, 871 F.3d
at 675. An ALJ should weigh the physician's opinion
according to factors such as the nature, extent, and length
of the physician-patient working relationship, the frequency
of examinations, whether the physician's opinion is
supported by and consistent with the record, and the
specialization of the physician. Id.; see
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(1)-(6). Finally, a non-examining
physician's opinion may constitute substantial evidence
for an ALJ's findings if that opinion “is
consistent with other independent evidence in the
record.” Tonapetyan, 242 F.3d at 1149.
Examining Psychiatrist: ...