United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
TINA M. BYERS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Byers seeks review of the denial of her application for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Ms. Byers contends the ALJ erroneously evaluated
(1) the opinions of three doctors and (2) her own testimony.
Dkt. 14. For the reasons 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.
Byers applied for benefits on October 21, 2009, alleging
disability as of January 1, 2000. Tr. 388. Her applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration, and by an ALJ
in a decision dated April 21, 2011. Id. On appeal to
this court, the court found that the ALJ had erred in
evaluating the opinion of examining psychologist Jamie E.
Carter, Ph.D., and the lay witness statement from Ms.
Byers' mother, Mary Burke. Tr. 570; Docket No.
3:12-cv-5679 (W.D. Wash.), Dkt. 14 at 2-3. On remand from the
district court, ALJ Cheri Filion found Ms. Byers not disabled
in a decision dated June 10, 2014. Tr. 586-600. The Appeals
Council reversed ALJ Filion's decision and remanded the
matter to a third ALJ, M.J. Adams, who issued a decision on
November 1, 2016, finding Ms. Byers not disabled. Tr. 579,
388-398. Because the Appeals Council did not accept review of
ALJ Adams' decision, the 2016 decision is the final
decision of the Commissioner.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  ALJ Adams found:
Step one: Ms. Byers has not worked since
October 21, 2009, the application date.
Step two: Chronic lumbar spine facet
arthropathy, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea,
schizoaffective disorder, affective disorders variously
diagnosed as mood disorder and bipolar disorder, anxiety
disorders variously diagnosed as posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) and anxiety not otherwise specified (NOS),
borderline personality disorder, and a history of
methamphetamine abuse (in remission since August 2009) with
ongoing cannabis abuse are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Byers can
perform light work, avoiding operation of machinery if
drowsy; perform simple, routine tasks and follow short,
simple instructions; do work that needs little or no
judgment; perform simple duties that can be learned on the
job in less than 30 days; respond appropriately to
supervision, but should not be required to work in close
coordination with coworkers where teamwork is required; deal
with occasional changes in the work environment; do work that
requires no contact with the general public.
Step four: Ms. Byers has no past relevant
Step five: As there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Byers
can perform, she is not disabled.
must provide “clear and convincing reasons” to
reject the uncontradicted opinion of an examining doctor.
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830, 831 (9th Cir.
1996). When contradicted, an examining doctor's opinion
may not be rejected without “specific and legitimate
reasons” that are supported by substantial evidence in
the record. Id.
Byers contends the ALJ misevaluated the opinions of state
agency medical consultant Matthew Comrie, Psy.D., and
examining doctors Jamie E. Carter, Ph.D., and John Nance,
Matthew Comrie, Psy.D.
Comrie opined Ms. Byers is “[m]oderately
[l]imited” in her “ability to work in
coordination with or proximity to others without being
distracted by them” and her “ability to get along
with coworkers or peers without distracting them or
exhibiting behavioral extremes.” Tr. 263-64. Dr.
Comrie's functional capacity assessment states Ms. Byers
“should minimize contact with the general public and