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 Lee Renfro filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of his application for 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. 6.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing
to properly consider the medical opinions of Dr. Backlund.
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 Social Security for Operations
(“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
April 3, 2014 Plaintiff filed an application for DIB,
alleging disability as of April 3, 2014. See Dkt. 9,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 83-84. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
reconsideration. See AR 91, 99. A hearing was held
before ALJ Laura Valente on October 18, 2016. See AR
36-90. On January 31, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 11-30. On October 6, 2017 Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's January 31, 2017
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See
AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing
to properly consider: (1) the opinions of treating
psychiatrist Dr. Mark Backlund M.D., mental health counselor
Sharon Olson, LMHC, and state agency consulting psychologists
Dr. Diane Fligstein, Ph.D., and Dr. Michael Brown, Ph.D.; (2)
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; and (3) the RFC
assessment and step five findings. Dkt. 11.
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. Backlund, Ms. Olson, Dr. Fligstein,
and Dr. Brown. Dkt. 11 at 13-16.
Dr. Backlund, treating psychiatrist
first contends the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons for
giving minimal weight to the opinions of treating
psychiatrist, Dr. Backlund. 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)).
April 2015, Dr. Backlund opined Plaintiff is seriously
limited in his ability to ask simple questions or
request assistance, set realistic goals or make plans
independently of others, interact appropriately with the
general public, travel in an unfamiliar place, use public
transportation, and work in coordination with or in proximity
to others without being unduly distracted. AR 457-58. Dr.
Backlund indicated Plaintiff is unable to meet competitive
standardsin making simple work-related decisions,
completing a normal workday and work week without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms, accepting
instructions and responding appropriately to criticism from
supervisors, getting along with co-workers or peers without
unduly distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes,
and dealing with normal work stress. Id. Dr.
Backlund opined Plaintiff is extremely limited in activities
of daily ...