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Giddings v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

July 17, 2018

LARRY WAYNE GIDDINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          DAVID W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Larry Wayne Giddings 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. 2.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in evaluating the March 7, 2016 opinion of treating physician, Dr. Juliet Liu, M.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr. Liu's March 7, 2016 opinion, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore harmful, 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 Operations (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 30, 2014 and March 8, 2016, respectively, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of January 28, 2014. See Dkt. 11, Administrative Record (“AR”) 164-65, 176-86. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 83-106, 110-14. A hearing was held before ALJ Wayne N. Araki on March 16, 2016. See AR 34-82. In a decision dated June 24, 2016, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 14-33. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating the medical opinion evidence of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Liu, and non-examining State agency physician, Dr. Robert Hoskins, M.D. Dkt. 13. Plaintiff seeks remand for further administrative proceedings. Dkt. 13 at 18.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of his treating primary care physician, Dr. Liu, and non-examining State agency physician, Dr. Hoskins. Dkt. 13.

         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)).

         A. Dr. Liu's Opinions

         As an initial matter, the parties contest the Court's standard of review. Plaintiff argues the ALJ was required to provide clear and convincing reasons for giving little weight to Dr. Liu's three opinions. Dkt. 13 at 7. Defendant argues Dr. Liu's opinion is contradicted by the opinion of Dr. Hoskins, who found Plaintiff could perform a limited range of sedentary work, thus, the ALJ was only required ...


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