Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Constantino v. Berryhill

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

November 28, 2017

SUZANNE CONSTANTINO, 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 Suzanne Constantino filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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, to discount two medical opinions. Had the ALJ properly considered this medical 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

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on November 5, 2013, and an application for SSI on January 9, 2014. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 11. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning July 25, 2013. AR 11. Plaintiff's applications were denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 11. ALJ Ilene Sloan held a hearing on May 11, 2015. AR 37-65. In a decision dated October 28, 2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 11-29. 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 giving little weight to the medical opinions of: (1) treating physician Dr. Edward Hartzler, M.D.; (2) examining physician Dr. Shawn K. Kenderline, Ph.D.; and (3) examining physician Dr. Richard W. Washburn, Ph.D. Dkt. 11, p. 1, 3-14. Plaintiff also asserts that, as a result of these errors, the ALJ erred at Steps Three and Five of the sequential evaluation process. Id. at 1, 14.

         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 weighed the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff first argues the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, to give little weight to medical opinion evidence from three physicians. Dkt. 11, pp. 1, 3-14.

         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. Hartzler

         Plaintiff maintains the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, for giving little weight to Dr. Hartzler's medical opinions. Dkt. 11, pp. 3-8.

         Dr. Hartzler is Plaintiff's treating physician. See e.g. AR 328-49, 350-59, 382-99 (treatment notes). Dr. Hartzler completed both a physical functional evaluation form and a medical source statement. AR 306-08, 555-59. In the physical functional evaluation, Dr. Hartzler opined Plaintiff's lumbar strain moderately interfered with her ability to perform one or more basic work-related activities. AR 307. He also opined Plaintiff had severe cervical strain and left shoulder strain, both of which made her unable to perform one or more basic work-related activities. AR 307. In all, Dr. Hartzler opined Plaintiff would be severely limited in her ability to perform work in a regular, predictable manner, and she would be unable to meet the demands of sedentary work. AR 308.

         In his medical source statement, Dr. Hartlzer made several additional findings regarding Plaintiff's limitations. He opined Plaintiff had severe limitations in her ability to deal with work stress. AR 555. With respect to Plaintiff's need to rest during a work day, he stated Plaintiff could not work for more than ten-to-fifteen minutes during an eight hour work day due to pain and fatigue. AR 556. He further opined that Plaintiff needed to rest, lay down, or recline in a supine position for more than six hours of an eight hour work day. AR 556. In addition, Dr. Hartzler found Plaintiff could use her fingers to handle for fifteen minutes before stopping use, and she could handle for less than one hour total during an eight hour work day. AR 556-57. Moreover, Dr. Hartlzer opined Plaintiff could sit for a maximum of fifteen minutes before needing to alternate postures or walk, and could sit for less than one ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.