United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
THERESA L. FRICKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and SSI benefits. The parties have consented to
have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge.
28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73;
Local Rule MJR 13.
reasons set forth below, the undersigned reverses
defendant's decision to deny benefits and remands this
matter for further administrative proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 24, 2014, plaintiff filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and SSI benefits, alleging that she became
disabled beginning February 22, 2013. Dkt. 4, Administrative
Record (AR) 21. These applications were denied by the Social
Security Administration March 31, 2014, and reconsideration
was denied on July 9, 2014. Id. A hearing was held
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), at
which plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a vocational
decision dated April 8, 2016, the ALJ found that plaintiff
could perform some jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and therefore that she was not disabled.
AR 33-34. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by
the Appeals Council on June 19, 2017, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner; plaintiff
appealed to this Court on December 1, 2017. AR 1; Dkt. 4; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
written decision dated April 8, 2016, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled.AR 23-32. Step one and two of the
five-step analysis were resolved in plaintiff's favor. AR
23. The ALJ found that the plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of her
disability and that she had the following severe impairments:
mental health conditions described as major depressive
disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), and pain disorder with related
psychological factors. Id. At step three, the ALJ
found that the plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments. AR 25.
assessing the plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC), the ALJ found that she had the residual functional
capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: 1)
she is limited to simple, routine tasks, and 2) superficial
public contact. Because of his assessment of the
plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not
disabled because there were a number of jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the
plaintiff could perform.
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an
award of benefits. She alleges that the ALJ erred:
(1) in evaluating the medical evidence;
(2) in discounting plaintiff's credibility;
(3) in assessing plaintiff's residual functional
(4) in finding plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy.
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ erred
in assessing medical opinion evidence and plaintiff's
credibility, and therefore in determining the plaintiff's
residual functional capacity, and thus in determining whether
plaintiff is disabled.
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017).
Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573,
576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a
mere scintilla, '” though “‘less than a
preponderance'” of the evidence. Id.
(quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).
Court must consider the administrative record as a whole.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that
supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's
conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the
decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not
rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are
considered in the scope of the Court's review.
the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation,
” that decision must be upheld. Allen v.
Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). That is,
“[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to
support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm
the decision actually made.” Allen, 749 F.2d
at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920,
921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical and
Other-Source Opinion Evidence
plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to provide specific and
legitimate reasons in discrediting the opinions of four
treating medical professionals and psychologists.
Specifically, the plaintiff claims that the opinions of Nancy
Pascua, ARNP, Kimberly Wheeler, Ph.D., Natalie Boodin, M.D.,
and some opinions of John Nance, Ph.D., were not given
is responsible for determining credibility and resolving
ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir.
1998). Where the evidence is inconclusive, “questions
of credibility and resolution of conflicts are functions
solely of the [ALJ].” Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). In such situations, “the
ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v.
Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601
(9th Cir. 1999). Determining whether inconsistencies in the
evidence “are material (or are in fact inconsistencies
at all) and whether certain factors are relevant to
discount” medical opinions “falls within this
responsibility.” Id. at 603.
resolving questions of credibility and conflicts in the
evidence, an ALJ's findings “must be supported by
specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d
at 722. The ALJ can do this “by setting out a detailed
and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical
evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making
findings.” Id. at 725. The ALJ also
may draw inferences “logically flowing from the
evidence.” Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. Further,
the Court itself may draw “specific and legitimate
inferences from the ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes
v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989).
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ryan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008)). Even
when a treating or examining physician's opinion is
contradicted, an ALJ may only reject that opinion “by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence.” Id. However, the ALJ
“need not discuss all evidence
presented” to him or her. Vincent on Behalf of
Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir.
1984) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The ALJ must
only explain why “significant probative evidence has
been rejected.” Id. Essentially, “an ALJ
errs when he rejects a medical opinion or assigns it little
weight while doing nothing more than ignoring it, asserting
without an explanation that another medical opinion is more
persuasive, or criticizing it with boiler plate language that
fails to offer a substantive basis for his conclusion.”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012-1013 (9th
general, more weight is given to a treating physician's
opinion than to the opinions of those who do not treat the
claimant. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). On the other hand, an ALJ need not accept
the opinion of a treating physician if that opinion is brief,
conclusory, and inadequately supported by medical findings or
by the record as a whole. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004). An
examining physician's opinion is “entitled to
greater weight than the opinion of a nonexamining
physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. A