United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Meadows seeks review of the denial of his application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB). Mr. Meadows contends the ALJ erred in (1)
finding fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) were
not medically determinable impairments at step two; and, (2)
weighing the opinion of Jacob Teitelbaum M.D. Dkt. 9 at 1.
Mr. Meadows further contends that evidence submitted to the
Appeals Council in seeking review of the ALJ's decision
undermines the evidentiary basis for the ALJ's step two
finding that fibromyalgia and CFS were not medically
determinable impairments. Id. at 13. 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.
January 15, 2014, Mr. Meadows protectively filed applications
for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of January 1, 2010.
Tr. 37. Mr. Meadows' applications were denied initially
and on reconsideration. Tr. 37, 212-21. After the ALJ
conducted a hearing on August 20, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Mr. Meadows not disabled. Tr. 37-52.
Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process,
Step one: Mr. Meadows has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2010, the
alleged onset date.
Step two: Mr. Meadows has the following
severe impairments: major depressive disorder and avoidant
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Meadows
can perform medium work with additional limitations. He can
occasionally kneel. He cannot operate foot control with his
left, lower extremity. He must avoid concentrated exposure to
pulmonary irritants. He could perform simple, routine tasks
and follow short, simple instructions. He could do work that
needs little or no judgment and could perform simple duties
that can be learned on the job in a short period. He requires
a work environment with minimal supervisor contact. Minimal
contact does not preclude all contact, rather it means
contact does not occur regularly (Minimal contact also does
not preclude simple and superficial exchanges and it does not
preclude being in proximity to the supervisor.). He can work
in proximity to co-workers but not in a cooperative or team
effort. He requires a work environment that has no more than
superficial interactions with co-workers. He requires a work
environment that is predictable and with few work setting
changes. He requires a work environment without public
Step four: Mr. Meadows cannot perform past
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Meadows
can perform, he is not disabled.
Tr. 37-52. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Meadow's
request for review making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-3.
Meadows contends the ALJ erred at step two in finding his
fibromyalgia and CFS were not medically determinable
impairments. Dkt. 9 at 1. This issue is interconnected with
the question of whether new evidence from Mr. Meadow's
treating doctor submitted to the Appeals Council for the
first time in requesting review undermines the ALJ's
decision. Dkt. 9 at 13. Accordingly, the Court will address
these two issues in tandem.
found fibromyalgia and CFS were not medically determinable
impairments. Tr. 41-43. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ
evaluated the medical evidence and found it did not establish
the impairments met the requirements of Social Security
Rulings (SSRs) 12-2p and 14-1p. The ALJ further found Dr.
Teitelbaum's opinion diagnosing these impairments and
finding them disabling was entitled to no weight, and that
the opinions of Norman Staley, M.D., finding no severe
physical impairments, and Gary Gaffield, M.D., finding no
tender points on examination and no physical limitations,
were entitled to great weight. Tr. 40-43. However, in
requesting review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council, Mr. Meadows submitted a subsequent opinion from his
treating physician, Casey Lien, M.D., dated February 8, 2016,
which undermines the ALJ's step two findings. Tr. 716-24.
The Appeals Council considered Dr. Lien's opinion in
denying review of the ALJ's decision and made it a part
of the record. Tr. 1-3. “[W]hen the Appeals Council
considers new evidence in deciding whether to review a
decision of the ALJ, that evidence becomes part of the
administrative record, which the district court must consider
in determining whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Brewes v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1163 (9th
Cir. 2012). Thus, it was appropriate for the Court to
consider this evidence in evaluating the ALJ's findings.
Dr. Lien's opinion specifically diagnoses Mr. Meadows
with fibromyalgia and CFS and lists signs and symptoms which
appear to satisfy the criteria of SSR 12-2p and SSR 14-1p.
Tr. 716-24. Dr. Lien further indicates that other possible
disorders or impairments have been excluded through methods
including blood tests and examination by a psychologist.
Id. He opines that these impairments caused Mr.
Meadows marked limitations in the areas of activities of
daily living and concentration, persistence and pace and
severe limitations in social functioning. Tr. 724. He opines
that, due to these impairments, Mr. Meadows is incapable of
even low stress work, that he would miss more than four days
of work per month, and that he would not have the stamina and
endurance to work even an easy full-time job. Tr. 722-24. He
further indicates that these impairments and symptoms have
been long-standing. Specifically, he notes that Mr.
Meadow's history of fatigue is chronic and that he has
tried many treatment attempts and specialists which have thus
far been unsuccessful. Tr. 716. He also notes that since he