United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF
J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Meagan Ann Ryan seeks review of the denial of her
applications for supplemental security income and child
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff contends the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by (1)
improperly assessing the opinions of state agency consultants
John Gilbert, Ph.D. and Michael Regets, Ph.D. that Plaintiff
could only perform one- to two-step tasks, and that her
concentration, persistence, and pace would periodically wane
in response to her subjective perception of pain; (2)
improperly discounting the opinions of Sharon Ledesma, Ph.D.;
and (3) improperly discounting the opinions of Lynn Staker,
M.D. Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. # 11) at 1. As discussed below, the
Court AFFIRMS the final decision of Defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) and DISMISSES the
case with prejudice.
filed for supplemental security income benefits on August 12,
2011, and for child disability benefits on September 6, 2011.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 68-69. On both
applications, she alleged a disability onset date of November
11, 2010. See id at 70, 82. Her claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. See Id. at 80-81,
92-93, 109, 124.
a hearing, ALJ Virginia Robinson denied Plaintiff's
claims on October 12, 2012. See Id. at 21-31. The
Appeals Council denied review on January 23, 2014.
Id. at 1. Plaintiff timely filed a complaint in the
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
challenging the ALJ's decision. See Id. at
996-97. The parties subsequently stipulated to remand and, on
August 14, 2014, Judge Benjamin Settle remanded the matter
with instructions to “reevaluate all of the source
opinions of record, including the opinions of the State
agency psychological consultants and Lynn Staker, M.D., and
give reasons for the weight assessed; reassess
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, including the
frequency of Plaintiff's need to alternate positions;
reassess Plaintiff's credibility; and, if warranted,
obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert.”
Id. at 1001-02.
conducted a second hearing on July 16, 2015. See Id.
at 934. On February 11, 2016, ALJ Robinson issued her
decision, again denying Plaintiff's claims for benefits.
See Id. at 902-26.
The ALJ's Decision
the five-step disability evaluation process, see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was disabled from November 11, 2010, through March
31, 2012. Id. at 914. The ALJ found that Plaintiff
(1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
November 11, 2010; (2) had the following severe impairments:
left heel fracture, status post lumbar fusion surgery,
depression, and pain disorder; and (3) had no impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 907. ALJ Robinson
determined that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, except that
she could stand or walk for a total of less than two hours in
an eight-hour work day; had to be able to elevate her left
foot to waist height for a total of about four hours in an
eight-hour work day; was limited to unskilled work that
required only simple, work-related decisions; and could have
superficial contact with the public, coworkers, and
supervisors. Id. at 909.
on Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ determined that there were no
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform (she had no relevant
past work). Id. at 913. Plaintiff was therefore
“under a disability, as defined by the Social Security
Act, from November 11, 2010 through March 31, 2012.”
Id. at 914.
also found, however, that Plaintiff's disability ended on
April 1, 2012. Id. Plaintiff had not developed any
new impairments since April 1, 2012, so her severe
impairments remained the same. Id. The ALJ found
that there had been an increase in Plaintiff's RFC due to
medical improvement, which occurred as of April 1, 2012.
Id. at 915. As of that date, Plaintiff had the
capacity to perform light work. Id. She was no
longer limited in her ability to stand or walk, and no longer
needed the ability to elevate her left foot during the
workday. See Id. Plaintiff's cognitive and
social limitations remained the same: she was “limited
to unskilled work that requires only simple, work related
decisions, ” and could have “superficial contact
with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.”
on Plaintiff's increased RFC, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform work as an office helper, electrical
accessories assembler, or housekeeper. Id. at 924.
If an additional limitation was added requiring “a
sit/stand option that would allow the claimant to alternate
between sitting and standing but not be off task more than
10% of the time, ” Plaintiff could perform work as an
office helper, small product assembler, and food/beverage
order clerk. Id. at 924-25. If Plaintiff was further
limited to sedentary work, she could still perform work as a
food/beverage order clerk, charge account clerk, or document
preparer. Id. at 925. Therefore, Plaintiff's
disability ended as of April 1, 2012. Id.
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision. Id. at 885. Plaintiff filed the present
complaint challenging the ALJ's determination that she
was not disabled as of April 1, 2012.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the 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).
The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other
ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required
to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than
one rational interpretation, one of which supports the
ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be
raises three issues in her challenge of the
Commissioner's decision. First, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ
misevaluated the opinions of State Agency medical consultants
John Gilbert, Ph.D., and Michal Regets, Ph.D. Pl. Op. Br. at
1. Second, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in rejecting the
opinion of examining doctor Sharon Ledesma, Ph.D.
Id. Third, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in
rejecting the opinion of examining doctor Lynn Staker, M.D.
Id. The Commissioner disputes each of
Plaintiff's alleged errors. Def. Resp. Br. (Dkt. # 14) at
The ALJ Did Not Err in Assessing the Opinions of Dr. ...