United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.
Jonathan Beltran filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of Plaintiff's 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. 5.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in her
treatment of two medical opinions. Had the ALJ properly
considered these medical opinions, the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional
limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless,
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
March 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB,
alleging disability as of December 10, 2009. See
Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. The
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 20. ALJ Stephanie
Martz held a hearing on February 4, 2016. See AR
43-68. In a decision dated March 24, 2016, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 20-36. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See AR 1-3; 20 C.F.R. §
404.981, § 416.1481.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) failing to give specific and legitimate reasons
to discount medical opinion evidence from examining physician
Dr. Rahul Khurana, M.D., and treating physician Dr. Caitlin
Enright, M.D.; (2) improperly assessing Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3)
failing to provide clear and convincing reasons to discount
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 10, pp.
2-15. Plaintiff argues that as a result of these errors, an
award of benefits is appropriate. Id. at 15-16.
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
argues the ALJ erred in her treatment of the medical opinion
evidence from Drs. Khurana and Enright. Dkt. 3, pp. 3-10.
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 Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908
F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990); Embrey v. Bowen, 849
F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)). 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 [her] 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 Cir. 1989)).
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in her treatment of medical
opinion evidence from examining physician Dr. Khurana. Dkt.
10, pp. 3-8.
Khurana performed a consultative psychiatric examination of
Plaintiff on July 21, 2014. See AR 393-97. In his
evaluation report, Dr. Khurana diagnosed Plaintiff with
recurrent and severe major depressive disorder;
post-traumatic stress disorder; panic disorder with
agoraphobia; alcohol dependence (in remission); cocaine
dependence (in remission); and amphetamine dependence (in
remission). AR 395. In addition, Dr. Khurana opined Plaintiff
may have a “possible learning disorder.” AR 395.
on Plaintiff's “reliable self-report” as well
as Dr. Khurana's “interview [and] observations,
” Dr. Khurana made several findings regarding
Plaintiff's ability to conduct work activities.
See AR 395-95. Dr. Khurana found Plaintiff had
“minimal job skills” and “decreased ability
to learn new job skills.” AR 395. Dr. Khurana also
opined Plaintiff had “minimal difficulty with simple
instructions.” AR 395. However, he was markedly
impaired in his ability to make “work-related judgments
or carry out more complex instructions” due to
depression, anxiety, and a possible learning disorder. AR
395. Furthermore, Dr. Khurana stated Plaintiff had
“extreme disability for sustained concentration [and]
persistence.” AR 395. Dr. Khurana moreover opined
Plaintiff's illnesses made social interactions with the
public, supervisors, and co-workers “extremely
difficult.” AR 395. Dr. Khurana found Plaintiff would