United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
B. Leighton United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Maricela Madrigal
Nieblas's Complaint (Dkt. 3) for review of the Social
Security Commissioner's denial of her applications for
disability insurance (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSDI”) benefits.
Nieblas suffers from headaches, cerebral trauma, cognitive
disorder, anxiety disorder, and somatoform disorder.
See Administrative Record (Dkt. 7) 20. She applied
for DIB on May 5, 2014, and SSDI on September 26, 2014,
alleging she became disabled on September 12,
2012. See AR 94-95, 113, 133. Both
applications were denied upon initial administrative review
and on reconsideration. See AR 110, 131, 149.
Law Judge Kimberly Boyce conducted a hearing on October 31,
2016, at which Madrigal Nieblas and a vocational expert
testified via telephone. AR 47-84.
December 28, 2016, ALJ Boyce issued a decision finding
Madrigal Nieblas not disabled. AR 39. The Appeals Council
denied Madrigal Nieblas's request for review on October
2, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision. See AR 1; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.981, 416.1481. On December 12, 2017, Madrigal Nieblas
filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of
the Commissioner's final decision. See
Nieblas argues that the Commissioner's decision to deny
benefits should be reversed and remanded for further
proceedings because the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion
of treating physician Gary Stobbe, M.D. Pl.'s Op. Br. at
parties have seemingly ignored the Court's standard of
review here, as they spent much of their briefs rearguing the
evidence. The Court does not reweigh the evidence, but
instead must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it
applied the “proper legal standard” and
“there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole
to support” that determination. Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005); see
also Batson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “The substantial evidence
test requires that the reviewing court determine”
whether the Commissioner's decision is “supported
by more than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a
preponderance of the evidence is required.”
Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10
(9th Cir. 1975). When the evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, it is the
Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
Id.; Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579
(9th Cir. 1984) (“‘Where there is conflicting
evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm
the decision actually made.'”) (quoting
Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir.
determines credibility and resolves ambiguities and conflicts
in the medical evidence. See Reddick v. Chater, 157
F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where the medical evidence in
the record is not conclusive, “questions of credibility
and resolution of conflicts” are solely the functions
of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642
(9th Cir. 1982). In such cases, “the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Morgan v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999).
Determining whether inconsistencies in the medical evidence
“are material (or are in fact inconsistencies at all)
and whether certain factors are relevant to discount”
the opinions of medical experts “falls within this
responsibility.” Id. at 603.
Nieblas argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of
treating physician Gary Stobbe, M.D. See Pl.'s
Op. Br. at 1. “If a treating physician's opinion is
‘well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the] case record, [it will
be given] controlling weight.'” Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527) (alterations in original); accord
Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 2014).
When a treating physician's opinion is contradicted, the
ALJ may only reject it by providing “specific and
legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence
in the record.” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830-31 (9th Cir. 1996). The ALJ can satisfy this requirement
“by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the
facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his
interpretation thereof, and making findings.”
Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725 (citing Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)).
analyzing a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ must
“consider factors such as the length of the treating
relationship, the frequency of examination, the nature and
extent of the treatment relationship, or the supportability
of the opinion.” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 676 (9th Cir. 2017). However, an “ALJ is not
required to make an express statement that she considered all
the factors outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 1527(c).”
Kelly v. Berryhill, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL
2022575, at *3 n.4 (9th Cir. May 1, 2018).
Stobbe is a board-certified neurologist who works in the
subspecialty area of traumatic brain injuries. AR 1213. He
saw Madrigal Nieblas three times in 2014 pursuant to a
referral from her primary care physician. See AR
953-68. On July 11, 2014, during his first examination, Dr.
Stobbe diagnosed Madrigal Nieblas with anxiety, chronic
posttraumatic headache, insomnia, persistent post-concussion
syndrome, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. AR 965.
Dr. Stobbe saw Madrigal Nieblas again on August 8, 2014. AR
959. Dr. Stobbe noted that he was “pleased with her
initial progress” since the earlier visit, but that
Madrigal Nieblas was still experiencing headaches and
anxiety. AR 958-59.
Stobbe last saw Madrigal Nieblas on October 27, 2014. AR 953.
At that appointment, Madrigal Nieblas reported that she was
“bombarded” with independent medical examinations
in August, September, and the beginning of October, which set
back all of her symptoms. Id. Dr. Stobbe maintained
his original diagnoses, but did not identify any particular
work or other limitations. AR 954.
March 9, 2015, Dr. Stobbe gave deposition testimony as part
of Madrigal Nieblas's workers' compensation claim
stemming from her October 2011 workplace injury. See
AR 1208. He confirmed his diagnoses, noting that Madrigal
Nieblas was suffering from “migraine-type headache[s]
that [were] associated with the light sensitivity, the sound
sensitivity, the smell sensitivity, the nausea and
disequilibrium as well as probably some of her cognitive
complaints.” AR 1217. ...