United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.
Sharon Frances Irene Bowes filed this action, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's
denial of her applications for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) and 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. 8.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to properly consider the opinions of Dr. Erum Khaleeq,
Ms. Deborah Metzler, and Ms. Teresa Garrison. Had the ALJ
properly considered these three opinions, the RFC may have
included additional limitations. The ALJ's errors are
therefore harmful, 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
September 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as of October 1, 2011. See
Dkt. 11, Administrative Record (“AR”) 21. The
applications were denied on initial administrative review and
reconsideration. See AR 21. A hearing was held
before ALJ Robert P. Kingsley on October 14, 2015.
See AR 41-80. In a decision dated December 1, 2015,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 21-34.
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 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing
to provide sufficient reasons to reject: (1) the medical
opinion evidence of Dr. Erum Khaleeq, M.D., Deborah Metzler,
M.H.P., L.M.H.C., and Teresa Garrison, A.R.N.P.; (2) college
professor Richard Weiss's opinion, and (3)
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 15, p. 1.
Plaintiff contends that, given these errors, the ALJ's
RFC finding, hypothetical questions, and Step Five
determinations were not supported by substantial evidence.
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 considered the medical opinion
alleges the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical
opinion evidence of Dr. Khaleeq, Ms. Metzler, and Ms.
Garrison. Dkt. 15, pp. 4-13.
Acceptable Medical Source
Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to properly weigh examining
psychiatrist Dr. Khaleeq's opinion. Dkt. 15, pp. 4-8. 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 Embrey v. Bowen,
849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988); Pitzer v.
Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)). 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 his
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
March 15, 2014, Dr. Khaleeq examined Plaintiff and diagnosed
her with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”)
and chronic pain. AR 485-88. Dr. Khaleeq opined that
Plaintiff could perform simple and repetitive tasks, but may
be distracted with detailed and complex tasks. AR 488. He
found Plaintiff could accept instructions from supervisors,
coworkers, and the public, as long as her pain allowed. AR
488. Dr. Khaleeq also determined Plaintiff could perform work
activities on a consistent basis, although it may take her
longer to complete a normal workday and workweek, and the
usual stress encountered in the workplace may further
aggravate her psychiatric condition. AR 488.
discussed Dr. Khaleeq's objective findings and his
opinion regarding Plaintiff's functional limitations. AR
30. The ALJ then stated:
Partial weight is assigned to this evaluation. The mental
status examination and the record support the assessment that
the claimant could perform at least simple, repetitive tasks
and socialize with others at work. However, (1) Dr.
Khaleeq's assessment that it could take the claimant
longer than normal to complete a workday/week and that stress
could aggravate her condition is based on subjective
complaints and lacks any objective basis, as the claimant
persisted during the entire evaluation and she performed
fairly well on the mental status examination. I find the
assessment about the claimant's pain entirely subjective
and beyond a psychological assessment. (2) I note despite
reporting to Dr. Wiggins just a few days earlier that she was
studying computers, she reported that her injuries were to
the point that she was unable to work or attend school.
(internal citations omitted, numbering added).
the ALJ gave partial weight to Dr. Khaleeq's assessment
that it would take Plaintiff longer than normal to complete a
workday/workweek and stress may aggravate her condition
because the opinion was based on subjective complaints and
lacked any objective basis. AR 30. The ALJ also found Dr.
Khaleeq's opinion regarding Plaintiff's pain was
entirely subjective and beyond a psychological assessment. AR