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 his application for disability
insurance 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
reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she
did not provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting
the opinion of treating physician Daniel Shelton, D.O., and
that the ALJ's error was harmful. The Court therefore
finds that defendant's decision to deny benefits should
be reversed, and that this matter should be remanded for
further administrative proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
November 19, 2013 plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging that he became
disabled beginning June 1, 2010. Dkt. 6; Administrative
Record (AR) at 166. That application was denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 68, 78. A
hearing was held before an ALJ, at which plaintiff appeared
and testified as did a vocational expert. AR 31.
decision dated December 29, 2015, the ALJ documented his
analysis at each of the five steps. AR 14-26. Steps one, two
and three were resolved in plaintiff's favor. AR 20. At
step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had a severe back
impairment caused by degenerative disc disease. AR 20. The
ALJ considered plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC), AR 22, and found, at step four, that plaintiff could
perform his past relevant work and therefore that he was not
disabled. AR 21-26. Plaintiff's request for review was
denied by the Appeals Council on May 22, 2017, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner,
which plaintiff then appealed in a complaint filed with this
Court on July 6, 2017. AR 4; Dkt. 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.98.
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for
further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred in
evaluating the medical evidence of Dr. Shelton.
AND SCOPE OF REVIEW
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017).
Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573,
576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a
mere scintilla, '” though “‘less than a
preponderance'” of the evidence. Id.
(quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576). If more than
one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence,
then the Court must uphold the ALJ's interpretation.
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).
That is, “[w]here there is conflicting evidence
sufficient to support either outcome, ” the Court
“must affirm the decision actually made.”
Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th
Cir. 1984) (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d
920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)). The Court may not affirm by
locating a quantum of supporting evidence and ignoring the
non-supporting evidence. Orn v. Astrue, at 630.
Court must consider the administrative record as a whole.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that
supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's
conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the
decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not
rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are
considered in the scope of the Court's review.
ALJ'S EVALUATION OF THE MEDICAL OPINION EVIDENCE
asserts the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion
evidence submitted by treating physician Daniel Shelton,
D.O., when the ALJ evaluated plaintiff's RFC. Dkt. 8 at
2. Plaintiff contends the ALJ's decision rejecting Dr.
Shelton's opinion is not supported by substantial
evidence. Dkt. 8.
types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security
cases: “(1) those who treat[ed] the claimant (treating
physicians); (2) those who examine[d] but d[id] not treat the
claimant (examining physicians); and (3) those who neither
examine[d] nor treat[ed] the claimant (non-examining
physicians).” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830 (9th Cir. 1996). A treating physician's opinion is
generally entitled to more weight than the opinion of a
doctor who examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and an
examining physician's opinion is generally entitled to
more weight than that of a non-examining physician.
Id. A non-examining physician's opinion may
constitute substantial evidence if “it is consistent
with other independent evidence in the record.”
Id. at 830-31; Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242
F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). 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, at 1149.
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.” 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)). 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