United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
Theresa L. Fricke, United States Magistrate Judge
L. has brought this matter for judicial review of
defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.
The parties have 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 undersigned reverses defendant's
decision to deny benefits and remands for further
filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental
security income benefits in September 2014, alleging she
became disabled as of April 15, 2014. Dkt. 9, Administrative
Record (AR) 15. Both applications were denied on initial and
reconsideration administrative review. Id. A hearing
was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ).
Id. Plaintiff appeared and testified, as did a
vocational expert. AR 45-69. The ALJ determined that
plaintiff could perform her past work as a personnel clerk
and therefore is not disabled. AR 15-36. The ALJ also
determined that there were jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform,
and that she is not disabled for that reason, as well. AR 35.
Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, seeking reversal
and remand for further proceedings.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is 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.
Court must consider the administrative record as a whole.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). The Court is required to 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.
the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation,
” that decision must be upheld. Allen v.
Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). That is,
“[w]here there is conflicting evidence sufficient to
support either outcome, ” the Court “must affirm
the decision actually made.” Allen, 749 F.2d
at 579 (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920,
921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
ISSUE FOR REVEW
ALJ err in weighing the medical opinion evidence?
Commissioner uses 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 Commissioner 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).
Opinions on Mental-Health Limitations
erred in rejecting the medical opinions of two examining
psychologists and a treating therapist regarding
plaintiff's mental-health limitations. The ALJ's
reasons are not supported by substantial evidence
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ryan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008)).
Even when a treating or examining physician's opinion is
contradicted, an ALJ may only reject that opinion “by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence.” Id.
general, more weight is given to a treating physician's
opinion than to the opinions of those who do not treat the
claimant. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). On the other hand, an ALJ need not accept
the opinion of a treating physician if that opinion is brief,
conclusory, and inadequately supported by medical findings or
by the record as a whole. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004).
an ALJ must thus provide at least specific and legitimate
reasons to reject the opinion of an “acceptable medical
source” who treated or examined the claimant,
“acceptable” sources include “only licensed
physicians and certain other qualified specialists.”
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir.
2012); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513(a), 416.913(a)
(versions effective September 3, 2013 to March 26, 2017).
Licensed counselors are not “acceptable medical
sources” under the regulations in effect at the time of
plaintiff's application. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1513(d); McGee v. Astrue, 368 Fed.Appx. 825, 828
(9th Cir. 2010). Because these sources “are not
entitled to the same deference” as acceptable medical
sources, the ALJ needs to give only “reasons
germane” to the source to discount its testimony.
Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527; Social Security Ruling (SSR) 06-03p).
Examining Psychologist Russell M. Bragg, Ph.D.
Bragg performed a psychological evaluation of plaintiff in
July 2014. AR 335-40. He reviewed her medical record and
conducted a clinical interview and mental-status examination.
Id. He observed that plaintiff showed a normal rate