United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
TIMOTHY L. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
Timothy L. Williams 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. 5.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
evaluating the medical opinion evidence of examining
psychologist, Dr. Todd Bowerly, Ph.D. Had the ALJ properly
considered Dr. Bowerly's opinion, the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional
limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore harmful, and
this matter is 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
filed applications for DIB and SSI on December 10, 2013 and
January 10, 2014, respectively, alleging disability as of
July 15, 2000. See Dkt. 8, Administrative Record
(“AR”) 221-232. The applications were denied upon
initial administrative review and on reconsideration.
See AR 84, 165-172. A hearing was held before ALJ
Linda Thomasson on October 28, 2015. See AR 35-70.
In a decision dated March 15, 2016, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 12-34.
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 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to properly evaluate: (1) the medical
evidence; (2) Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony;
and (3) Plaintiff's RFC and the findings at steps four
and five. Dkt. 12 at 1-16. Plaintiff argues this case should
be remanded for an award of benefits. Dkt. 12 at 16-18.
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 assessed the medical opinion
Examining psychologist, Dr. Bowerly,
argues the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of Department
of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) examining
psychologist, Dr. Bowerly. Dkt. 12 at 2-5.
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)).
October 2013, Dr. Bowerly performed a psychological
evaluation of Plaintiff. AR 355-59. Dr. Bowerly diagnosed
Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe
with psychotic features, and rule out schizoaffective
disorder, noting “psychotic features may be more
primary at this point”. AR 356-57. Dr. Bowerly rated
Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score at 35. AR 356-57. Dr. Bowerly
observed Plaintiff had slow speech; blunted, depressed,
constricted, and flat affect; depressed mood; poor recent
memory; and poor insight/judgment. AR 359. Dr. Bowerly opined
Plaintiff was severely limited in his ability to understand,
remember and persist in tasks by following very short and
simple and detailed instructions; perform activities within a
schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within
customary tolerances without special supervision; complete a
normal work day and work week without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms; maintain appropriate behavior
in a work setting; and set realistic goals and plan
independently. AR 357. Dr. Bowerly opined Plaintiff was
markedly limited in his ability to learn new tasks; perform
routine tasks without supervision; adapt to changes in a
routine work setting; make simple work-related decisions; be
aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions; ask
simple questions or request assistance; and communicate and
perform effectively in a work setting. AR 357.
assigned little weight to Dr. Bowerly's opinion,
including the GAF score, finding his opinion was: (1) based
on Plaintiff's self-reports during a one-time
“snapshot encounter” ...