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Pratt v. Berryhill

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

April 30, 2018

CRAIG A. PRATT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          David W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         After 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On 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 128-131.

         On 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.

         In the 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.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant 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 Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical evidence.

         Plaintiff 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.[1] See id.

         A. Dr. Mitchell, examining psychologist

         Plaintiff 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)).

         On 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[2] 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[3] in his ability to understand, remember, and persist in tasks by following detailed instructions; ...


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