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Wesley B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 6, 2019

WESLEY B., Plaintiff,


          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff brought this matter for judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications for disability insurance and supplement security income benefits. The parties consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in October 2014, alleging he became disabled as of July 15, 2012. Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (AR) 15. Both applications were denied at the initial and reconsideration administrative review levels. AR 15. Following a hearing held before an administrative law judge (ALJ), at which plaintiff and a vocational expert appeared and testified, and a supplemental hearing at which plaintiff again testified, along with a different vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, and therefore that he was not disabled. AR 12-38, 39-65, 66-101. Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, seeking reversal and remand for further administrative proceedings.


         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless it is: (1) based on legal error; or (2) not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id.; Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir. 2017).

         If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, then the Court must uphold the ALJ's interpretation. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). That is, “[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm the decision actually made.” Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)). The Court, however, may not affirm by locating a quantum of supporting evidence and ignoring the non-supporting evidence. Orn, 495 F.3d at 630.

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court also must weigh both the evidence that supports and evidence that does not support the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are considered in the scope of the Court's review. Id.


         Did the ALJ give adequate reasons to reject the medical opinions of Alysa A. Ruddell, Ph.D., Luci Carstens, Ph.D., and Loren McCollom, Ph.D.?


         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step four of that process, a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine whether past relevant work can be performed, and, if necessary, at step five to determine whether an adjustment to other work can be made. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). At step five, the ALJ has the burden of proof, which can be met by showing a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's decision discounting the medical opinions of two examining physicians, Drs. Ruddell and McCollom, and the opinion of non-examining physician, Dr. Carstens. Dkt. 8. The Court concludes that the ALJ did not err in discounting these doctors' opinions.

         Three types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security cases: “(1) those who treat[ed] the claimant (treating physicians); (2) those who examine[d] but d[id] not treat the claimant (examining physicians); and (3) those who neither examine[d] nor treat[ed] the claimant (non-examining physicians).” Lester v. Chater,81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996). A treating physician's opinion is generally entitled to more weight than the opinion of a doctor who examined but did not treat the ...

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