United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge
Larry Darnell Ezell filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of his 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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing
to properly consider the medical opinion of Dr. Knapp. Had
the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence, the
ALJ may have determined Plaintiff is disabled or included
additional limitations in the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment. Therefore, the ALJ's
error is harmful and this matter should be reversed and
remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
to the Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) for further
proceedings consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
February 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI, alleging disability as of June 15, 2014. See
Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 83-84. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
reconsideration. See AR 135-38, 139-144. A hearing
was held before ALJ Kimberly Boyce on September 26, 2016.
See AR 35-82. On November 21, 2016, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 17-34. On August 22, 2017,
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's
November 21, 2016 decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing
to properly consider: (1) the opinions of Dr. Geordie Knapp,
Psy.D., Dr. Norman Staley, M.D, Dr. John Robinson, Ph.D.; (2)
the lay witness testimony of Plaintiff's mother, Clara
Ezell; and (3) the RFC and step five findings. Dkt. 12.
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. Knapp, Dr. Staley and Dr. Robinson.
Dkt. 12 at 6-14.
Dr. Knapp, examining psychologist
first contends the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons for
giving little weight to the opinion of examining
psychologist, Dr. Knapp. Dkt. 12 at 6-11. 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 Cir. 1989)).
January 28, 2015, Dr. Knapp conducted a psychological
evaluation and reviewed the 2008 psychological evaluation by
Dr. Richard Washburn, Ph.D. AR 334-38 (Dr. Knapp's
evaluation), 341-45 (Dr. Washburn's 2008 evaluation). Dr.
Knapp diagnosed Plaintiff with “Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder, chronic” (PTSD), and “Major Depressive
Disorder, recurrent, severe without psychotic
features.” AR 335.
Knapp opined Plaintiff had a global assessment of functioning
(“GAF”) score of 43. AR 336. He found Plaintiff
is markedly limited in his ability to understand, remember,
and persist in tasks by following detailed instructions;
perform routine tasks without special supervision; make
simple work-related decisions; and ask simple questions or
request assistance. AR 336. Dr. Knapp also opined Plaintiff
is severely limited in his ability to perform activities
within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be
punctual within customary allowances without special
supervision; communicate and perform effectively in a ...