United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
GERALD C. JR, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for
judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's
applications for 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. 3.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to properly consider medical opinion evidence from Dr.
Jennifer Irwin, M.D. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Irwin's opinion, 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 Social Security Commissioner
(“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
9, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging
disability as of August 28, 2015. See Dkt. 8,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 34. The application
was denied upon initial administrative review and on
reconsideration. See AR 34. ALJ David Johnson held a
hearing on May 16, 2017, and a supplemental hearing on
December 4, 2017. AR 58-110, 142-184. In a decision dated
January 3, 2018, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not
disabled. AR 142-84. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See AR 1-7; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981,
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to properly consider: (1) medical opinion
evidence from Dr. Irwin, Dr. Cynthia Collwingwood, Ph.D., and
Dr. Adrian Magnuson-Whyte, Ph.D.; (2) Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony; (3) the Veterans Affairs
(“VA”) Rating Decision (“VA Rating”);
and (4) the RFC and Step Five findings. Dkt. 12, pp. 3-13.
Plaintiff requests, as a result of the ALJ's alleged
errors, the Court remand Plaintiff's claim for an award
of benefits. Id. at p. 14.
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 assessed the medical opinion
first maintains the ALJ failed to properly consider medical
opinion evidence from Drs. Irwin, Collingwood, and
Magnuson-Whyte. Dkt. 12, pp. 3-11.
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)).
contends the ALJ failed to provide any specific, legitimate
reason to reject Dr. Irwin's opinion that Plaintiff would
have difficulty maintaining regular attendance in the
workplace, completing a normal workday/workweek, and dealing
with the usual stress encountered in the workplace. Dkt. 12,
August 16, 2016, Dr. Irwin conducted a psychiatric
examination of Plaintiff. AR 580-85. Dr. Irwin reviewed an
adult function report and discussed with Plaintiff his
history of present illness, medications, psychiatric history,
medical history, and family, social, and employment history.
AR 580-82. Further, Dr. Irwin conducted a mental status
examination of Plaintiff. AR 582-83. Regarding
Plaintiff's prognosis, Dr. Irwin determined
Plaintiff's “psychosis is managed with medications
and cognitive behavioral therapy, but the mood cycling
persists. It is a lifelong illness and will continue for the
next 12 months.” AR 583.
Irwin opined, in relevant part, Plaintiff “would have
difficulty maintaining regular attendance in the workplace
due to rapid cycling bipolar disorder with unpredictable mood
switching.” AR 584. Dr. Irwin found Plaintiff
“would have difficulty completing a normal
workday/workweek without interruption from a psychiatric
condition.” AR 584. Lastly, Dr. Irwin determined
Plaintiff “would have difficulty dealing with the usual
stress encountered in the workplace.” AR 584.
summarized Dr. Irwin's opinion and gave it “little
weight, ” stating:
(1) [G]iven the other evidence of the claimant's
activities and demonstrated capabilities, the limitations
opined by Dr. Irwin would not be significant or beyond the
tolerances opined by the vocational expert, especially with
the limited demands in the limited work setting in the above
[RFC]. (2) Dr. Irwin's opinion is also inconsistent with
the treatment records indicating that the claimant's
mental symptoms are well controlled with medication. (3) This
opinion is also inconsistent with medical records that do not
record any particular difficulties.
AR 47 (citations omitted) (numbering added).
the ALJ gave Dr. Irwin's opinion little weight because he
found the opined limitations not significant or beyond the
limitations in the RFC given the evidence of Plaintiff's
“activities and demonstrated capabilities.” AR
47. An ALJ may discount a physician's findings if those
findings appear inconsistent with a plaintiff's daily
activities. See Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853,
856 (9th Cir. 2001). But an ALJ cannot reject a
physician's opinion in a vague or conclusory manner.
See Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012-13 (9th
Cir. 2014) (citing Nguyen v. Chater, 100 F.3d 1462,
1464 (9th Cir. 1996)); Embrey, 849 F.2d at 421-22.
As the Ninth Circuit has stated:
To say that medical opinions are not supported by sufficient
objective findings or are contrary to the preponderant
conclusions mandated by the objective findings does not
achieve the level of specificity our prior cases have
required, even when the objective factors are listed
seriatim. The ALJ must do more than offer his conclusions. He
must set forth ...