United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
A. TSUCHIDA Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Daniel J. seeks review of the denial of his Supplemental
Security Income application. He contends that the ALJ erred
in evaluating the medical evidence, his testimony, and the
lay witness evidence, and that the resulting residual
functional capacity finding and finding of nondisability are
thus erroneous. Dkt. 18. The Court REVERSES
the Commissioner's final decision and
REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
is currently 53 years old, has a high school education, and
does not have past relevant work. Tr. 225, 247, 255. He
applied for benefits in January 2015, alleging disability as
of July 2001; he later amended his alleged onset date to
January 28, 2015, the date he filed his application. Tr. 223,
255. After his application was denied initially and on
reconsideration, the ALJ conducted a hearing and, on April
28, 2017, issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled.
Tr. 22-37. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date; he had the following
severe impairments: cervical spine degenerative disc disease,
lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, and bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, status post release surgeries; and these
impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a
listed impairment. Tr. 24-26. The ALJ found that plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity to perform light work
with additional postural, manipulative, and environmental
limitations. Tr. 27. The ALJ found that plaintiff had no past
relevant work, but, as there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
could perform, he was not disabled. Tr. 35-37.
argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical
evidence. In general, the ALJ must give specific and
legitimate reasons for rejecting a treating or examining
doctor's opinion that is contradicted by another doctor,
and clear and convincing reasons for rejecting a treating or
examining doctor's uncontradicted opinion. Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1996).
Lang and evidence prior to December 2014
January 2014, Robert Lang, M.D., plaintiff's treating
neurosurgeon, diagnosed plaintiff with uncontrolled carpal
tunnel syndrome. Tr. 385. He noted that an EMG nerve
conduction study from October 2013 was positive for slight
worsening of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists.
Id. Dr. Lang opined that plaintiff had persistent
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome despite bilateral open
carpal tunnel release with internal neurolysis. Id.
March 2014, Dr. Lang noted that plaintiff had residual
discomfort following his carpal tunnel release surgery and he
did not benefit from injections. Tr. 394. He opined that
plaintiff was quite incapacitated by his ongoing discomfort.
Id. Dr. Lang stated that while plaintiff should
follow up if his symptoms worsened, he had no additional
treatment recommendations at that time. Id. Dr. Lang
opined that plaintiff was unable to work full-time because of
his ongoing discomfort and objective clinical findings,
including weakness in his hands and inability to fully oppose
thumb to little finger, and he recommended approval of Social
Security disability. Id.
did not address Dr. Lang's treatment notes or the
opinions contained therein. Plaintiff argues that this is
harmful legal error, as the ALJ cannot disregard without
explanation the findings and opinions of a treating
specialist, especially where those findings and opinions
contradict the ALJ's residual functional capacity
assessment. Dkt. 18 at 4. Plaintiff also identifies treatment
notes from other providers dated March 2014 through October
2014, and asserts that the ALJ also erred by failing to
discuss these notes. Id.
Commissioner responds that the evidence plaintiff cites to is
from more than a year before the alleged onset date and, for
this reason, is not significant and probative evidence that
the ALJ is required to discuss. Dkt. 19 at 13. This statement
is misleading at best. The earliest treatment note from Dr.
Lang that plaintiff identifies is dated January 15, 2014,
which is one year and 13 days before the alleged onset date.
Dr. Lang's March 2014 note is from eight months before
the alleged onset date. Even if the ALJ could properly
discount the January 15, 2014 treatment note because it was
dated more than a year before the alleged onset date, all the
other evidence plaintiff identifies does not fall within this
the nature of the opinions contained in Dr. Lang's
treatment notes undermine the Commissioner's argument
that they are not relevant or probative to plaintiff's
current claim. Dr. Lang provided follow-up treatment after
plaintiff's carpal tunnel surgery; he found that the
surgery did not provide relief of plaintiff's ongoing
discomfort and that injections did not confer more than a
temporary benefit. He opined that there were no further
treatment options available to plaintiff. These notes show
unsuccessful treatment attempts and a lack of additional
treatment options in the period leading ...