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Amelia S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

April 22, 2019

AMELIA S., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's (“Commissioner”) denial of Plaintiff's application 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.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not err when he rejected opinions from four treating sources that Plaintiff is limited to part-time work. The ALJ also did not err in rejecting two additional opinions from treating medical sources, whose opinions include that Plaintiff meets two mental disorder listings. Lastly, the ALJ did not err when he found Plaintiff does not meet the criteria for any mental disorder listing. Because the ALJ's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of October 8, 2014. See Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (“AR”) 19. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 19. ALJ Jay E. Levine held a hearing on May 15, 2017. AR 16-35. In a decision dated October 12, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 16-35. 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. § 404.981.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to: (1) state specific, legitimate reasons to discount four treating sources - Monique Maio, mental health therapist, Diana Pickett, Ph.D., M.D., Anne L. Cox, M.D., and Katherine Bumstead, M.D. - who opined Plaintiff is limited to performing part-time work; (2) properly reject another medical opinion from Dr. Cox, and an opinion from Suzanne Taylor, Ph.D.; and (3) find Plaintiff meets Listings 12.04 or 12.06 at Step Three of the sequential evaluation process. Dkt. 8, pp. 3-13.


         Pursuant 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 Cir. 1999)).


         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred when he rejected opinions from Ms. Maio, Dr. Pickett, Dr. Cox, and Dr. Bumstead finding Plaintiff limited to performing part-time work. Dkt. 8, pp. 4-9. Plaintiff also argues the ALJ failed to properly consider two additional medical opinions from Drs. Cox and Taylor. Id. at p. 9-11.

         In assessing an acceptable medical source, an 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. 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)).

         “Other medical source” testimony, which the Ninth Circuit treats as lay witness testimony, “is competent evidence an ALJ must take into account, ” unless the ALJ “expressly determines to disregard such testimony and gives reasons germane to each witness for doing so.” Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 511 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Turner v. Comm'r of Soc. Soc. Admin., 613 F.3d 1217, 1224 (9th Cir. 2010). In rejecting lay testimony, the ALJ need not cite the specific record as long as “arguably germane reasons” for dismissing the testimony are noted. Lewis, 236 F.3d at 512.

         A. Opinions Limiting ...

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