United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
J. Pechman United States District Judge
Christine Novak seeks review of the denial of her application
for Disability Insurance Benefits. Dkt. 1. Ms. Novak contends
the ALJ harmfully erred by partially rejecting the other
source statements of Mareth Chromey, a licensed mental health
Counselor (LMHC), and Davis Clowers, a psychiatric mental
health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Dkt. 9 at 1. As relief,
Ms. Novak contends the Court should reverse the ALJ's
decision and remand the case for further proceedings.
Commissioner disagrees and argues the ALJ provided valid
reasons to discount the other sources' opinions, that
“Plaintiff is simply asking for a different
interpretation of the evidence within the record” and
that the Court should therefore affirm the ALJ's decision
finding Ms. Novak not disabled. Dkt. 10 at 7. As discussed
below, the Court find the ALJ harmfully erred,
REVERSES the Commissioner's final
decision and REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
the five-step disability evaluation process set forth in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1, the ALJ found:
Step one: Ms. Novak has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 15, 2012.
Step two: Cervical and back strain, left
shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, status post left shoulder
arthroscopic surgery, anxiety disorder, affective disorder
and obesity are severe impairments.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment. See
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1.
Residual Functional Capacity: Ms. Novak can
perform medium work; she can occasionally climb ladders,
ropes and scaffolds; can frequently reach overhead
bilaterally; can frequently handle, finger and feel with the
left upper extremity (non-dominant hand); should not be
required to drive as a job duty; should have only occasional
brief, superficial interactions with the general public and
coworkers; and can accept supervision.
Step four: Ms. Novak can perform past
relevant work as a photocopy machine operator.
Step five: Alternatively, Ms. Novak can
perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy and is therefore not disabled.
19-29. The ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision because the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review. Tr. 1. The rest of the procedural history
is not essential in determining the outcome of the case and
is thus not recounted.
Novak argues the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of Ms.
Chromey, LMHC, and Mr. Clowers, PMHNP, who are treating
medical “other sources.” Only licensed physicians
and certain other qualified specialists are considered
“[a]cceptable medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1513(a). In contrast, nurse practitioners and counselors
are defined as “other sources, ” and are not
entitled to the same level of deference as acceptable medical
sources. See Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111
(9th Cir. 2012); and see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1513(a)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. However, the
opinions and evidence from other sources are important and
must be evaluated by the ALJ. See e.g. Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1013-14 (9th Cir. 2014) (ALJ erred
by failing to recognize “other source that can provide
evidence about ...