United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
CRAIG A. PRATT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.
Craig A. Pratt filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of his application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). 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 failing
to properly consider the medical opinion of Dr. Melanie
Mitchell, Psy.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Mitchell's opinion, 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
November 21, 2008, Plaintiff protectively filed his first
application for SSI, alleging disability as of November 20,
2008. See Dkt. 8, Administrative Record
(“AR”) 114. Plaintiff's claim was denied upon
initial administrative review and reconsideration.
Id. Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing in
Olympia, Washington and ALJ Thomas Norman (“ALJ
Norman”) presided over the hearing from Houston, Texas
on February 11, 2010. AR 74-110, 114. On March 30, 2010, ALJ
Norman found Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 111-127. On
September 24, 2010 Plaintiff's request for review of ALJ
Norman's decision was denied by the Appeals Council. AR
March 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second application for SSI,
alleging disability as of September 1, 1986. See
Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 133. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
reconsideration. See AR 132-157. Two hearings were
held before ALJ Michael Blanton (hereinafter “the
ALJ”) on April 20, 2015 and August 31, 2015.
See AR 35-73. On May 4, 2016 the ALJ found Plaintiff
was not disabled. AR 12-34. On June 27, 2017, Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's May 4, 2016
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 examining
psychologist Dr. Melanie Mitchell, Psy.D, examining physician
Dr. Rachel Beda, M.D., examining physician Dr. Marie Ho,
M.D., examining psychiatrist Dr. Melinda Losee, Ph.D.,
examining psychologist Dr. Tasmyn Bowes, Psy.D.; the mental
health clinical findings of clinician Diane Young, mental
health practitioner James Fernandez, MA, LMHP, mental health
counselor, Benjamin McWhorter, MA, MHP, LMHC, and nurse
practitioner Laura Wade ARNP, RN, MHP; medical evidence from
Dr. Allen Millard, M.D., Dr. John Baldwin, M.D., and Dr.
Rachel Reeg, M.D.; and the opinions of state agency
non-examining sources Dr. Dana Harmon, Ph.D., Dr. Bruce
Eather, Ph.D., and Dr. Robert Hoskins, M.D.; (2)
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; (3) the RFC and
step five findings; and (4) new evidence submitted to the
Appeals Council. 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
alleges the ALJ failed to properly consider all of the
medical opinion evidence, the opinions of eight medical
providers: Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Beda, Dr. Ho, Dr. Losee, Dr.
Bowes, Dr. Harmon, Dr. Eather, and Dr. Hoskins. Dkt. 12 at
2-10. Plaintiff also argues the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate the clinical findings of Ms. Young, Mr. Fernandez,
Mr. McWhorter, Ms. Wade, Dr. Millard, Dr. Baldwin, and Dr.
Reeg. See id.
Dr. Mitchell, examining psychologist
contends the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons for
giving little weight to the opinion of examining
psychologist, Dr. Mitchell. Dkt. 12 at 2-4. 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)).
November 20, 2013, Dr. Mitchell conducted a psychological
evaluation and assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment
Functioning (“GAF”) score of 50. AR 476-481. Dr.
Mitchell diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, rule out
ADHD and PTSD, and personality disorder (with borderline
traits). AR 477-78. She found Plaintiff is markedly
limited in his ability to perform activities
within a schedule; maintain regular attendance and be
punctual with customary tolerances without special
supervision; and complete a normal work day and work week
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and
moderately limited in his ability to understand, remember,
and persist in tasks by following detailed instructions;