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Hasme v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 13, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.



         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 (see also Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 5). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 12, 13, 14.

         After considering and reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not commit harmful legal error during the evaluation of plaintiff's Social Security claim. Although plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred when evaluating plaintiff's allegations and testimony, there are many inconsistencies and conflicts between plaintiff's testimony at her hearing about her limitations, and the statements and reports throughout the medical record regarding her activities and abilities.

         Similarly, although plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred when evaluating the medical evidence, Dr. Chen's January 2015 opinions were internally inconsistent, inconsistent with the longitudinal record, and based on plaintiff's subjective reports, which the ALJ properly rejected.

         Accordingly, the Court orders that this matter be affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff, TERESA HASME, applied for disability benefits on June 24, 2013 alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2003. See AR. 209-17. The Court notes that the ALJ erroneously refers to plaintiff's application date as May 2013 throughout the decision. See AR. 29, 35-38, 209-217. Plaintiff was born in 1962 and was 40 years old on the alleged disability onset date. See Id. Plaintiff has a tenth grade education. AR. 54-55. Plaintiff has no relevant work history. AR. 57

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, obesity, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance use disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).” AR. 31.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in an apartment with her adult son. AR. 53.


         Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act was denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 86-99, 100-14. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Mary Gallagher Dilley (“the ALJ”) on February 5, 2015. See AR. 48-84. On October 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 26-47.

         In plaintiff's Opening Brief, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) The ALJ erred in weighing of the medical opinion evidence; (2) The ALJ erred in her consideration of plaintiff's allegations; and (3) The ALJ erred in her consideration of the lay witness statement. See Dkt. 12 at 1.


         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)).


         (1) Did the ALJ err in weighing the medical opinion evidence?

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in her consideration of the medical opinion evidence of treating physician Dr. Fredrick Chen, M.D. regarding the limitations arising from her carpal tunnel syndrome. Dkt. 12 at 2-6. Dr. Chen was plaintiff's primary care physician throughout the period under consideration. See AR. 312-321, 460-77.

         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)). In doing so, the ALJ “has an independent ‘duty to fully and fairly develop the record and to assure that the claimant's interests are considered.'” Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1288 (9th Cir. 1996).

         In October 2008, over four years prior to plaintiff's disability application date, Dr. Chen opined that plaintiff could perform light work with a limited restricted mobility, agility and flexibility in handling. AR. 316-319. The ALJ gave significant weight to this opinion, reasoning that it was consistent with plaintiff's longitudinal examination findings and overall ...

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