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 Plaintiff's
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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide any specific, legitimate reason, supported
by substantial evidence, to reject medical opinion evidence
from Dr. Peter A. Weiss, Ph.D. Had the ALJ properly
considered Dr. Weiss'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
August 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI,
alleging disability as of December 9, 2014. See Dkt.
10, Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 15. ALJ John Michaelsen
held a hearing on July 10, 2017. AR 36-62. In a decision
dated September 27, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be
not disabled. AR 12-35. 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 1-6; 20 C.F.R. §§
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to: (1) properly consider Dr. Weiss's
medical opinion; and (2) provide legally sufficient reasons
to reject Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony and
two lay witness opinions. Dkt. 21, pp. 3-13. Plaintiff
requests, as a result of the ALJ's alleged errors, the
Court remand this case for an award of benefits. Id.
at p. 13.
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 Dr. Weiss's medical
contends the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons
to reject Dr. Weiss's opinion. Dkt. 21, pp. 9-12.
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)).
Weiss performed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on
May 18, 2015. AR 313-19. Dr. Weiss's evaluation included
a review of a prior psychological evaluation, a clinical
interview, a mental status examination, and a Personality
Assessment Inventory (“PAI”). See AR
313-19. Dr. Weiss opined Plaintiff has moderate limitations
in two areas of basic activities: the ability to understand,
remember, and persist in tasks by following detailed
instructions; and the ability to learn new tasks. AR 315. Dr.
Weiss found Plaintiff markedly limited in her ability to
adapt to changes in a routine work setting. AR 315. Further,
Dr. Weiss determined Plaintiff has several severe
limitations, such as in her ability to communicate and
perform effectively in a work setting, maintain appropriate
behavior in a work setting, and set realistic goals and plan
independently. AR 315. Dr. Weiss opined Plaintiff is also
severely limited in her ability to perform activities within
a schedule, maintain ...