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Seymour v. Berryhill

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

July 25, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's objections (Dkt. No. 14) to United States Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida's Report and Recommendations (“R&R”) (Dkt. No. 13). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby OVERRULES Defendant's objections (Dkt. No. 14) and ADOPTS the R&R (Dkt. No. 13) for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action involves Plaintiff Brian Seymour's appeal of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) denial of disability benefits. (Dkt. No. 4.) Plaintiff is 39 years old with a high school education. (Dkt. No. 8-8 at 15.) He has previously worked as a boatswain and sales attendant. (Id. at 65-66.) Plaintiff has diabetes mellitus, post-traumatic stress disorder, a history of ADHD, and several other ailments. (Id. at 8.) He originally applied for benefits in October 2012, alleging disability as of January 1, 2009. (Dkt. No. 8-2 at 21.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled in June 2014. (Id. at 35.) Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision, and the Honorable James L. Robart reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings. (See Dkt. No. 8-9 at 35-36.) Judge Robart directed the ALJ to reassess the medical evidence presented by Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Engstrom. (Id. at 51-52.) He also found that the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff would be off task 14% of the time was not “supported by substantial evidence in the record.” (Id. at 49.)

         On remand, the ALJ again determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Dkt. No. 8-8 at 17.) Plaintiff appealed, and Judge Tsuchida issued an R&R recommending that the Court reverse the ALJ's decision, find Plaintiff disabled, and remand for an award of benefits. (Dkt. No. 13.) Defendant timely objected to the R&R. (See Dkt. No. 14.)


         A. Standard of Review

         When a party makes a specific objection to a portion of a magistrate judge's R&R, a reviewing court conducts a de novo review of that portion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). After conducting the appropriate review, the district court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         B. Defendant's Objections

         Defendant makes four objections to Judge Tsuchida's R&R. First, Defendant asserts that the ALJ properly discounted Dr. Engstrom's opinion. (Dkt. No. 14 at 2-5.) Second, Defendant argues that the ALJ appropriately found that Plaintiff's cataracts were not a severe impairment. (Id. at 5-6.) Third, Defendant asserts that the ALJ reasonably found that Plaintiff would be off task 10% of the time. (Id. at 6-7.) Fourth, if the Court finds that the ALJ erred, Defendant contends that the case should be remanded for further proceedings rather than for an award of benefits. (Id. at 7-9.) The Court addresses each objection in turn.

         1. Dr. Engstrom's Opinion

         The opinions of treating physicians are entitled to special weight and “if the ALJ chooses to disregard them, ‘he must set forth specific legitimate reasons for doing so, and this decision must itself be based on substantial evidence.'” Embry v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 421 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Cotton v. Bowen, 799 F.2d 1403, 1408 (9th Cir. 1986)). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support the conclusion in light of the entire record.” Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The Ninth Circuit has also made clear that “[t]he ALJ must do more than offer his conclusions.” Embry, 849 F.2d at 421.

         Dr. Engstrom opined that Plaintiff has marked social limitations, challenges coping with the activities of daily living and workplace stress, and that Plaintiff would miss at least two days of work per month due to his mental health issues. (Dkt. No. 8-7 at 283-84.) In his R&R, Judge Tsuchida found that the ALJ failed to give specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, to reject Dr. Engstrom's opinion. (Dkt. No. 13 at 5.) Defendant argues that the ALJ correctly rejected the physician's opinion because it contradicted other evidence in the record. (Dkt. No. 14 at 2-5.)

         The ALJ gave two reasons for giving Dr. Engstrom's opinion only some weight. First, the ALJ found that Dr. Engstrom was unaware of certain of Plaintiff's self-reported activities, including his parenting responsibilities and his relationships with his father and one friend. (Dkt. No. 8-8 at 13.) The ALJ reasoned that this evidence contradicted Dr. Engstrom's opinion that Plaintiff had marked limitations with social functioning and the activities of daily living. (Id.) Second, the ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Engstrom's opinion because Plaintiff ...

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