United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
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 her application
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. 5.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide specific, legitimate reasons supported by
substantial evidence for giving little weight Dr. Luci
Carstens' medical opinion. Had the ALJ properly
considered Dr. Carstens' opinion, Plaintiff's
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 Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
February 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI,
alleging disability as of October 1, 2012. See Dkt.
8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 20. A hearing was held
before ALJ Cheri Filion on March 16, 2016. See AR
40-96. A second, supplemental, hearing was held before ALJ
Keith Allred on June 12, 2017. AR 97-130. In a decision dated
August 30, 2017, ALJ Allred determined Plaintiff was not
disabled. See AR 20-33. Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals
Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See AR 1-5; 20 C.F.R. §
404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing
to properly: (1) consider the medical opinion evidence and
(2) consider Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.
Dkt. 10, p. 2. Plaintiff requests remand for an award of
benefits. Id. at pp. 17-18.
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
contends the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical
opinions of Dr. Luci Carstens, Ph.D. and Ms. Laura Landstrom,
LMHCA. Dkt. 10, pp. 3-12.
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred when he gave little weight
to Dr. Carstens' opinion. Dkt. 10, pp. 3-8. 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.
2, 2016, Dr. Carstens, an examining psychologist, completed a
Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation of Plaintiff. AR 666-77.
Dr. Carstens conducted a clinical interview, a mental status
examination (“MSE”), and a Personality Assessment
Inventory of Plaintiff. AR 666-77. She documented her
clinical findings, including Plaintiff's diagnoses. AR
666-77. Dr. Carstens opined Plaintiff was severely limited in
her ability to adapt to changes in a routine work setting,
communicate and perform effectively in a work setting,
maintain appropriate behavior in a work setting, and complete
a normal work day and work week without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms. AR 669. She found Plaintiff
markedly limited in understanding, remembering and persisting
in tasks by following detailed instructions and performing
activities within a schedule, maintaining regular attendance,
and being punctual within customary tolerances without
special supervision. AR 669. Dr. Carstens also opined
Plaintiff was moderately limited in learning new tasks,