United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.
Ashkan Alghasi 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”). 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.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his
treatment of medical opinion evidence. Had the ALJ not erred,
the ALJ's Step Two findings may have changed, and 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
11, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging
disability as of December 28, 2007. See Dkt. 8,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 21. The application
was denied upon initial administrative review and on
reconsideration. See AR 21. ALJ Wayne Araki has held
two hearings and issued two decisions in this matter. The ALJ
held the first hearing on September 12, 2013. AR 35-51. In a
decision dated December 2, 2013, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
to be not disabled. AR 18-34. Plaintiff appealed that
decision to the United States District Court for the Western
District of Washington, which remanded the case pursuant to a
stipulated motion for remand from the parties. See
AR 417-18, 425-26, 429.
held the second hearing in this matter on January 31, 2017.
AR 374-88. In a decision dated June 9, 2017, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 348-73. Plaintiff
did not file written exceptions with the Appeals Council,
making the June 9, 2017 decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's June 9, 2017
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to: (1) provide legally sufficient reasons
to reject medical opinion evidence from Dr. Azar Sadeghalvad,
M.D., and Dr. Richard W. Washburn, Ph.D.; (2) account for all
of his “severe” impairments at Step Two of the
sequential evaluation process; and (3) provide clear and
convincing reasons to reject Plaintiff's subjective
symptom testimony. Dkt. 12, pp. 2-17. Plaintiff argues that,
as a result of these errors, an award of benefits is
appropriate. Id. at 18.
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 the medical opinion
asserts the ALJ erred in his consideration of medical opinion
evidence from Drs. Sadeghalvad and Washburn. Dkt. 12, 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)).
treating physician, Dr. Sadeghalvad, provided her opinion
regarding Plaintiff's conditions and workplace
limitations on a disability form dated March 14,
2013. AR 275-78. Dr. Sadeghalvad noted Plaintiff
had several diagnosed conditions, including “post renal
failure with cadaver renal transplant on chronic - permanent,
immunosuppressive medications, ” “RLQ
[right-lower quadrant] pain, ” “chronic back
pain, ” “sleep apnea, ” and “obesity
- morbid.” AR 275. Dr. Sadeghalvad opined that these
conditions contribute to Plaintiff's limitations in work
activities. AR 275. In particular, Dr. Sadeghalvad opined
these conditions limited Plaintiff to sitting, standing, and
walking for less than fifteen minutes at a time. AR 275. Dr.
Sadeghalvad moreover wrote that Plaintiff could never climb,
twist, bend, squat, or crawl, and could reach, grasp, use a
keyboard, and use fine manipulation for fifteen to thirty
minutes at a time. AR 275. Further, Dr. Sadeghalvad
determined Plaintiff could lift, carry, and push less than
ten pounds for less than ten minutes at a time. AR 277. She
also opined Plaintiff was “severely limited, ”
indicating she believed Plaintiff was unable to lift at least
two pounds or unable to stand or walk. AR 277. In all, Dr.
Sadeghalvad concluded Plaintiff could participate in work for
zero hours each week. AR 275.
discounted the weight given to Dr. Sadeghalvad's opinion
for three reasons:
(1) [O]ther than a list of diagnoses/conditions and
claimant's current treatment plan/providers (ENT,
nephrology, ophthalmology), the doctor provided little
evidence of clinical findings to support the opinion of
permanent disability and functional limitations to preclude
all work. (2) The doctor also indicated that claimant needed
further evaluation or assessment. (3) The primary care
provider's opinion of total disability is not consistent
the claimant's nephrology evaluations/exams and
laboratory testing with Drs. Mahallati and Brockenbrough,
discussed above, indicating stable renal function and
generally normal labs, as well as Dr. Mahallati's
comments in treatment notes questioning the claimant's
assertions of disability.
(numbering added) (citations omitted); see also AR
365 (“Dr. Sadeghalvad's opinion of ...