United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.
Dennis Sablan Mendiola 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. 3.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons, supported
by substantial evidence in the record, for rejecting medical
opinion evidence. Had the ALJ properly considered this
medical opinion evidence, the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) may have included additional limitations.
The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless, and this
matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as of December 1, 2013. See
Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. The
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 20. ALJ Eric S. Basse
held a hearing on August 2, 2016. AR 41-74. In a decision
dated September 6, 2016, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be
not disabled. AR 17-40. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons,
supported by substantial evidence in the record, for
discounting medical opinion evidence from: (1) Dr. Geordie
Knapp, Psy.D.; and (2) Dr. George Ankuta, Ph.D. Dkt. 9, pp.
1-6. Plaintiff argues that as a result of these errors, a
remand for further administrative proceedings is warranted.
Id. at 1.
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 opinion
argues the ALJ failed to properly consider medical opinion
evidence from Drs. Knapp and Ankuta. Dkt. 9.
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. 1995) (citing Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908
F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)); Embrey v. Bowen, 849
F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)). 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)).
Knapp conducted a psychological/psychiatric evaluation of
Plaintiff in March 2015. AR 543-47. As part of his
evaluation, Dr. Knapp conducted a clinical interview and
mental status examination. See AR 545-47. On the
mental status examination, Dr. Knapp found Plaintiff not
within normal limits ...