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 applications
for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she
failed to provide specific, legitimate reasons supported by
substantial evidence for rejecting medical opinion evidence
from Dr. Erum Khaleeq, M.D. and other examining physicians.
Had the ALJ properly considered these medical opinions, 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
case has a lengthy procedural history. On December 13, 2012,
Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB, alleging
disability as of June 1, 2012. See Dkt. 10,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 251-257, 258-264.
Her applications were denied upon initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. See AR 148-154,
155-162, 165-169, 170-177. A hearing was held before ALJ
Cynthia D. Rosa on February 5, 2014. AR 54-85. In a decision
dated May 6, 2014, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not
disabled. AR 19-48. On November 20, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision. See AR 1-7. Plaintiff appealed ALJ
Rosa's decision to the United States District Court for
the Western District of Washington (“Court”),
which reversed and remanded the decision on August 3, 2016.
See AR 763-781. On December 7, 2016, the Appeals
Council issued a remand order vacating ALJ Rosa's
decision and remanding the case for further proceedings
consistent with the Court's order. AR 782-786.
January 23, 2018, ALJ Rebecca L. Jones held the present
hearing. AR 663-720. On May 2, 2018, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff to not be disabled. AR 615-654. The ALJ's May
2, 2018 decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by failing to properly assess: (1) opinion evidence
from Drs. Ruddell, Sanchez, Khaleeq, Wingate, Lewis,
Thompson, and Trowbridge; and (2) Plaintiff's subjective
claims. Dkt. 17, pp. 1-19. Plaintiff requests the Court
remand her claims for an award of benefits due to the
ALJ's alleged errors. Id. at p. 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
argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider opinion
evidence from Drs. Ruddell, Sanchez, Khaleeq, Wingate, Lewis,
Thompson, and Trowbridge. Dkt. 17, pp. 1-17.
assessing an acceptable medical source - such as a medical
doctor - 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. 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)).
Dr. Ruddell and Dr. Sanchez
maintains that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasons
for rejecting portions of an opinion from Dr. Ruddell. Dkt.
17, pp. 4-8. Plaintiff further maintains that the ALJ did not
provide sufficient reasons for rejecting an opinion from Dr.
Sanchez, who based her opinion on a review of Dr.
Ruddell's evaluation. Dkt. 17, p. 9.
Ruddell conducted a psychological/psychiatric evaluation of
Plaintiff in November 2016. AR 1192-1196. As part of her
evaluation, Dr. Ruddell conducted a clinical interview and a
mental status examination. See AR 1192-1196. Based
on this evaluation, Dr. Ruddell opined that Plaintiff had
marked limitations in her ability to adapt to changes in a
routine work setting. AR 1194. Dr. Ruddell also determined
that Plaintiff had marked limitations in maintaining
appropriate behavior in a work setting, completing a normal
work day and work week without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms, and setting realistic goals
and planning independently. AR 1194. Dr. Ruddell further
opined that Plaintiff had severe limitations in her ability
to learn new tasks. AR 1194.
December 2016, Dr. Sanchez performed a review of the medical
evidence for the Washington State Department of Social &
Health Services. AR 1197-1199. Dr. Sanchez reviewed the
results of Dr. Ruddell's November 2016 evaluation of
Plaintiff, and re-affirmed Dr.
findings concerning Plaintiff's marked and severe
work-related mental limitations. AR 1198-1199.
gave little weight to the opinions of Dr. Ruddell and Dr.
Sanchez regarding Plaintiff's marked and severe
limitations, reasoning that: (1) the opinions were not
consistent with the record as a whole; and (2) ...