United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge
Jason Ronald Reinhart 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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his
consideration of medical opinion evidence from Dr. J. Alex
Crampton, Psy.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Crampton's opinion, 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
February 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as of December 31, 2010.
See Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (“AR”)
16. The applications were denied upon initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. See AR 16. ALJ James
Sherry held a hearing on April 26, 2016. AR 39-71. In a
decision dated May 20, 2016, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to
be not disabled. AR 13-38. Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) failing to provide legally sufficient reasons
to discount medical opinion evidence; (2) finding Plaintiff
did not meet Listing 12.04, 12.06, or 12.09; (3) improperly
discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; and
(4) not allowing a lay witness to testify at the hearing.
Dkt. 11, pp. 6-12. Plaintiff argues that due to these errors,
an award of benefits is appropriate. Id. at 13.
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 his consideration of the medical
opinion evidence. Dkt. 11, pp. 10-12. In particular,
Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred in his consideration of
opinion evidence from Dr. J. Alex Crampton, Dr. Nitin Karnik,
Mr. Marshall Johnson, and by giving greater weight to
non-examining sources over examining and treating physicians.
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. 1995) (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 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)).
Crampton performed a psychological/psychiatric evaluation of
Plaintiff on July 13, 2013. AR 433-46. Dr. Crampton provided
his evaluation on a Washington State Department of Social
& Health Services (“DSHS”) form. See
AR 433. As part of his evaluation, Dr. Crampton performed a
clinical interview, a mental status examination, and other
psychological tests. See AR 433-46. Dr. Crampton
opined Plaintiff was limited in his ability to conduct
several work activities. For instance, Dr. Crampton opined
Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to learn new
tasks, perform routine tasks without special supervision,
make simple work-related decisions, and understand, remember,
and persist in tasks by following very short and simple
instructions. AR 435. Dr. Crampton also found Plaintiff
moderately limited in his ability to be aware of normal
hazards and take appropriate precautions, and ask simple
questions or request assistance. AR 435.
addition, Dr. Crampton determined Plaintiff was markedly
limited in two areas: his ability to understand, remember,
and persist in tasks by following detailed instructions, and
his ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain
regular attendance, and be punctual within customary
tolerances without special supervision. AR 435. Finally, Dr.
Crampton opined Plaintiff had severe limitations in his
ability to adapt to changes in a routine work setting,
communicate and perform effectively in a work setting,
maintain appropriate behavior in a work setting, and complete
a normal work day and work week without interruptions from
psychologically-based symptoms. AR 435.
summarized parts of Dr. Crampton's examination and then
gave Dr. Crampton's opinion “little weight”
for several reasons:
(1) The doctor did not have any records to review, so it was
largely based on the claimant's self-report. (2) The
claimant did not disclose he continued to use marijuana
regularly, so the doctor was unable to make an accurate
diagnosis/assessment of functioning. (3) Further, while it is
agreed the claimant has some limitations due to his mental
health, the severity found by Dr. Crampton was inconsistent
with his reported activities to the doctor. For instance, the
doctor reported the claimant had a severe limitation in his
ability to adapt to changes at work, and was unable to
complete a normal workday or workweek, yet the claimant was
the single stay-at-home parent of three young children at the
time. The severity is inconsistent with the claimant's
treatment records that showed he was engaging in a wide range
of activities. (4) It is further noted that Dr. Crampton is
not a treating provider, and his opinion was based on a
one-time exam. (5) The doctor did not think the claimant
would be limited for more than six months, or permanently
disabled by his condition, which is further inconsistent with
his severe findings. (6) Although the claimant reported he
struggled with this for years, this is belied by the lack of
any evidence showing a history of treatment.
(7) The DSHS report is given limited weight for additional
reasons. DSHS uses different rules and regulations to
establish disability, so the same conclusions may not have
been reached if applying only our regulations. Evaluations
conducted for DSHS are largely based on the claimant's
self-reported symptoms and complaints, and (8) in this case,
the severity of the report is not consistent with the
objective findings upon exam. He had some deficits, but they
were not of a disabling degree.
AR 24-25 (numbering added).
the ALJ gave eight reasons to discount Dr. Crampton's
opinion, but none of these reasons was specific and
legitimate, or supported by substantial evidence in the
the ALJ gave Dr. Crampton's opinion little weight because
he found it largely based on Plaintiff's self-report. AR
24. An ALJ may reject a physician's opinion “if it
is based to a large extent on a claimant's self-reports
that have been properly discounted as incredible.”
Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir.
2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Notably, however, a clinical interview and mental status
evaluation are ...