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Ladwig v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

April 19, 2018

COLLEEN FRANCES LADWIG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          THERESA L. FRICKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of her applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) 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 MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds defendant's decision to deny benefits should be affirmed.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 9, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI benefits, alleging in both applications that she became disabled beginning August 1, 2008. Dkt. 17, Administrative Record (AR) 1510. Both applications were denied on initial administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) applied the Commissioner's five-step sequential disability evaluation process, finding in a decision dated December 14, 2011, that plaintiff could perform past relevant work at step four of that process and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 14-28.

         Plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court, which on July 26, 2013, reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. AR 660-666. On remand, following a hearing held before the same ALJ, in a decision dated January 20, 2015, plaintiff again was found to be capable of performing past relevant work at step four of the sequential disability evaluation process and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 637-659.

         Once more plaintiff appealed that decision, and once more the Court reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. AR 1564-1575. On remand, a hearing was held before a different ALJ, at which plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. AR 2008-2065. In a decision dated December 8, 2016, the ALJ found plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of obesity, status post cervical spine surgery, lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post bilateral carpal tunnel surgery, an affective disorder, and an anxiety disorder. AR 1513.

         The ALJ nevertheless found plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy at step five of the sequential disability evaluation process, and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 1510-1529. It appears the Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction of the matter, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision, which plaintiff appealed in a complaint filed with this Court on April 6, 2017. Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         Plaintiff seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits, or in the alternative for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred:

(1) in determining that plaintiff did not object to the admission of a 2009 Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (“CDIU”) report;
(2) in failing to follow the Court's second remand order directing the ALJ to re-evaluate the October 2013 opinion of Sharon A. Osea, M.D., and reweigh all of the medical opinion evidence;
(3) in giving little weight to the opinions of examining psychologist Sylvia Thorpe, Ph.D.;
(4) in failing to reweigh the opinions of examining psychiatrist Anselm Parlatore, M.D.
(5) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and
(6) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

         For the reasons set forth below, however, the Court disagrees that the ALJ erred as alleged, and therefore recommends that the Court affirm the decision to deny benefits.

         DISCUSSION

         The 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, 495 F.3d at 630.

         The 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. ...


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