United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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
Whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion
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.
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)).
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.
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.
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 ...