United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks review of the denial of his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits for a closed period of disability from May
1, 2014 until June 27, 2016, the date that Plaintiff returned
to full-time work. AR at 38. Plaintiff contends the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred by
rejecting the medical opinions of two examining
psychologists, David Widlan, Ph.D. and Miles Hohnegger,
Ph.D., and an examining physician, Ann Alvarez M.D. (Dkt. # 8
at 1.) As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the
Commissioner's final decision, and DISMISSES the case
was born in 1973, graduated from high school, and completed
approximately a year and a half of college. AR at 36. In
October 1994, Plaintiff was injured during an electrocution
accident in Haiti while serving in the United States Army.
Id. at 43. As a result of the electrocution,
Plaintiff injured his right hand and foot. Doctors later
amputated a large portion of Plaintiff's right foot.
Despite his injuries, Plaintiff continued to work until
sometime in 2014. In June 2016, Plaintiff began working as a
project manager for a carpet and flooring company.
Id. at 42. Prior to June 2016, Plaintiff was last
gainfully employed in May 2014. Id. at 56.
October 29, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for Disability Insurance Benefits claiming his disability
began on May 1, 2014. AR at 15. Plaintiff's application
was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff
requested a hearing. Id. After the ALJ conducted
hearings on December 20, 2016 and March 16, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled, able to
perform past relevant work, and in the alternative, the ALJ
found that there are other jobs existing in the national
economy that Plaintiff is able to perform. Id. at
found that the Plaintiff had severe impairments including
remote partial amputation of the right foot, right wrist
impairment status post injury and carpal tunnel release,
right knee degeneration, diabetes, depressive disorder,
anxiety disorder, and substance addiction disorder. AR at 17.
The ALJ determined that the impairments did not meet or equal
a listed impairment and that he has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work with some limitations.
Id. at 17-19. As part of his decision, the ALJ
evaluated the medical opinions of two State agency
consultants, giving these opinions significant weight.
Id. at 24. With respect to Drs.Widlan and
Hohenegger, the ALJ gave them “some/partial
weight” because they both only evaluated the Plaintiff
on one occasion, relied heavily on the Plaintiff's
subjective reports of limitations, used vague terms, and
because the Plaintiff claimed more severe limitations during
these evaluations than he had reported throughout the
treatment records. Id. at 24. As for Dr. Alvaraz,
the ALJ gave little to no weight to her opinion because there
was no indication she actually treated the Plaintiff, used
unclear terms, and offered contradictory limitations in the
same opinion. Id. at 25.
the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant
work, or alternatively, that given Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
the Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to
other work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy. AR at 27. As the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision is
the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff appealed the
final decision of the Commissioner to this Court.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
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 (9th Cir.
2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be
deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the
ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited
sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a
whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of
the case.” Id. “Substantial
evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a
preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). 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 Commissioner.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's
conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
appeals only the issue of whether the ALJ erred by
“rejecting” the medical opinions of Drs. Widlan,
Hohnegger and Alvarez. (Dkt. # 8 at 1-2.) As a threshold
matter, the ALJ did not reject these opinions, but rather
gave them partial weight. Regardless, the Court finds that
the ALJ's reasoning for affording these opinions lesser
weight than other evidence in the record was based on
specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial
are three types of physicians: “(1) those who treat the
claimant (treating physicians); (2) those who examine but do
not treat the claimant (examining physicians); and (3) those
who neither examine nor treat the claimant [but who review
the claimant's file] (nonexamining [or reviewing]
physicians).” Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d
1195, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Generally,
a treating physician's opinion carries more weight than
an examining physician's, and an examining
physician's opinion carries more weight than a reviewing
physician's. Id. at 1202. “In addition,
the regulations give more weight to opinions that are