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Davis v. Berryhill

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

July 23, 2018

LADRINA Y. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of her 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 when she failed to provide specific, legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence for giving little weight to the medical opinions of Drs. Chinyere Obimba, Arthur Davis, and Kathleen Andersen. Had the ALJ properly considered the opinions of these three doctors, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's errors are 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 29, 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of May 27, 2010. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 60, 312, 881 (Plaintiff amended her disability onset date from May 28, 2011 to May 27, 2010 at the first ALJ hearing). The applications were denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 881. On May 1, 2013, ALJ Ilene Sloan found Plaintiff not disabled. AR 32-49, 881. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's administrative appeal, making the ALJ's opinion the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-4; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. Plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, which remanded the case for further proceedings. See AR 989-1002; Davis v. Colvin, 2:14-CV-1484-RSM-JPD (W.D. Wash.).

         On remand, Plaintiff received a second hearing before ALJ Sloan, who again found Plaintiff not disabled. AR 881-97, 908-45. Plaintiff did not request review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's June 21, 2017 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 879. Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's June 21, 2017 decision finding Plaintiff not disabled.[1]

         In the Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to: (1) properly consider the medical opinion evidence; and (2) provide clear and convincing reasons for discounting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 13, p. 1. Plaintiff requests the Court remand this case for an award of benefits. Id. at p. 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 considered the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the medical opinions of Drs. Chinyere Obimba, M.D., Arthur Davis, Ph.D., and Kathleen Andersen, M.D., and Physician's Assistant Jeannie Chang. Dkt. 13, pp. 9-18.

         A. Acceptable Medical Sources

         Plaintiff first asserts the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence for discounting the medical opinions of Drs. Obimba, Davis, and Andersen. Dkt. 13, pp. 9-13, 14-19.

         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)).

         1. Dr. Obimba

         On February 1, 2016, Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Obimba, wrote a letter stating Plaintiff was unable to work at that time due to an inability to control her pain. AR 1778-79. She opined it would take Plaintiff one to two years to control her impairments to the point she could return to work. AR 1778.

         Dr. Obimba also wrote a letter and completed a Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Physical) and a Mental Impairment Questionnaire on December 15, 2016. AR 1911-17. Dr. Obimba opined that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, asthma, anxiety, and depression caused functional limitations. AR 1911-17. She found Plaintiff had the following limitations:

• Plaintiff can lift less than ten pounds occasionally;
• Plaintiff can stand two to four hours in an eight hour day;
• Plaintiff can sit, so long as she can periodically alternate between ...

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