United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Kathleen Burke filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial
of Plaintiff's application for 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 in his
assessment of medical opinion evidence from Dr. Shannon
Ledesma, Ph.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Ledesma's opinion, 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 Deputy Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
August 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB,
alleging disability as of February 1, 2011. See Dkt.
6, Administrative Record (“AR”) 17. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 17. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) has held two ALJ hearings
and issued two ALJ decisions in this matter. ALJ Verrell
Dethloff held the first hearing on October 17, 2012. AR
42-54. In a decision dated December 19, 2012, ALJ Dethloff
determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 14-41. Plaintiff
appealed ALJ Dethloff's decision to the United States
District Court for the Western District of Washington
(“Court”), which affirmed ALJ Dethloff's
decision. See AR 482-84, 487-90. Thereafter,
Plaintiff appealed the Court's decision to the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed and remanded the
matter to the Court with instructions to remand the ALJ's
decision to the Commissioner. See AR 487-90. The
Court subsequently remanded the case to the Commissioner for
further consideration. AR 497-98.
remand, ALJ Tom L. Morris held the second hearing in this
matter on March 23, 2017. AR 387-445. In a decision dated
August 30, 2017, ALJ Morris found Plaintiff to be not
disabled. AR 362-83. Plaintiff did not file written
exceptions with the Appeals Council, making the August 30,
2017 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20
C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. Plaintiff now appeals
ALJ Morris's August 30, 2017 decision.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred: (1) in his assessment of the medical opinion evidence;
(2) by failing to fully and fairly develop the administrative
record; and (3) by providing legally insufficient reasons to
reject Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 10.
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 medical opinion evidence
from Dr. Ledesma.
maintains the ALJ erred in his assessment of medical opinion
evidence from examining physician, Dr. Ledesma. Dkt. 10, pp.
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)).
Ledesma conducted a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on
October 31, 2011. AR 264-68. As part of her evaluation, Dr.
Ledesma conducted a mental status examination of Plaintiff.