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.
has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) 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 MJR 13. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that
defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed,
and that this matter should be remanded for further
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
February 6, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI
benefits, alleging in both applications that she became
disabled beginning October 24, 2003. Dkt. 11, Administrative
Record (AR) 17. Both applications were denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. A
hearing was held on April 9, 2015 before an administrative
law judge (ALJ), and the plaintiff amended her date of onset
to October 7, 2008; plaintiff appeared and testified, as did
a vocational expert. AR 32-60.
decision dated August 28, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff
could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and therefore that she was not disabled.
AR 17-27. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by
the Appeals Council on January 23, 2017, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner, which
plaintiff then appealed in a complaint filed with this Court
on March 16, 2017. AR 1; Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. §§
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for
further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:
(1) in rejecting the medical opinions from Geordie Knapp,
M.D., and Gregory Charboneau, Ed.D., and (2) in finding
plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court finds that the ALJ erred in rejecting the
opinion of Dr. Knapp, and thus in finding plaintiff could
perform other jobs, and therefore in determining that she is
Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld if the “proper legal
standards” have been applied, and the
“substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports” that determination. Hoffman v.
Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see
also Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772
F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991). “A decision
supported by substantial evidence nevertheless will be set
aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in
weighing the evidence and making the decision.”
Carr, 772 F.Supp. at 525 (citing Brawner v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Sers., 839 F.2d 432, 433
(9th Cir. 1987)). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted);
see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193.
Commissioner's findings will be upheld “if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Substantial
evidence requires the Court to determine whether the
Commissioner's determination is “supported by more
than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a
preponderance of the evidence is required.”
Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10
(9th Cir. 1975). “If the evidence admits of more than
one rational interpretation, ” that decision must be
upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th
Cir. 1984). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the
Court “must affirm the decision actually made.”
Allen, 749 F.2d at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Opinion
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].” Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such situations, “the
ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v.
Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601
(9th Cir. 1999). Determining whether inconsistencies in the
evidence “are material (or are in fact inconsistencies
at all) and whether certain factors are relevant to
discount” medical opinions “falls within this
responsibility.” Id. at 603.
resolving questions of credibility and conflicts in the
evidence, an ALJ's findings “must be supported by
specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d
at 725. The ALJ can do this “by setting out a detailed
and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical
evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making
findings.” Id. The ALJ also may draw
inferences “logically flowing from the evidence.”
Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. Further, 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).
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ryan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008)). Even
when a treating or examining physician's opinion is
contradicted, an ALJ may only reject that opinion “by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence.” Id. However, the ALJ
“need not discuss all evidence
presented” to him or her. Vincent on Behalf of
Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir.
1984) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The ALJ must
only explain why “significant probative evidence has
been rejected.” Id.; see also Cotter v.
Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706-07 (3rd Cir. 1981);
Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 610 (7th Cir.
general, more weight is given to a treating physician's
opinion than to the opinions of those who do not treat the
claimant. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1996). On the other hand, an ALJ need not accept
the opinion of a treating physician “if that opinion is
brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical
findings” or “by the record as a whole.”
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002);
Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir.
2001). An examining physician's opinion is
“entitled to greater weight than the opinion of a
nonexamining physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d at
830-31. A ...