United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL
B. Leighton, United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt.
1) for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
denial of her application for disability insurance benefits.
Plaintiff has severe impairments of degenerative disc disease
of the spine, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. Admin.
Record (“AR”) (Dkt. 5) at 18. Plaintiff applied
for disability benefits on March 26, 2014 alleging a
disability onset date of December 22, 2009. See Id.
at 75, 154-55.
application was denied on initial review and on
reconsideration. Id. at 75-83, 86-99. At
Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) M.J. Adams held a hearing on
Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 30-74. On July 25,
2016, ALJ Adams issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled and denying her claim for benefits. Id. at
16-24. The Appeals Council denied review. Id. at
1-3. Plaintiff then sought review before this Court.
argues that the ALJ erred in (a) rejecting Plaintiff's
testimony, (b) evaluating the medical evidence, and (c)
evaluating the vocational expert's testimony in
connection with step five of the disability evaluation
process. See Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. 7) at 1. Plaintiff
argues that the Court should remand this matter for an award
of benefits. Id.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the 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).
The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other
ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required
to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the
evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
The ALJ Harmfully Erred in Rejecting Plaintiff's
contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting her subjective
symptom testimony. Pl. Op. Br. at 11-13. Plaintiff testified
that she had difficulty sitting, standing, and walking for
much time. See AR at 42-55, 183, 222. Plaintiff
testified that she had difficulty lifting, carrying, and
using her hands. See Id. at 58, 183, 222. She
testified that she took medication for anxiety and
depression, but was not in mental health counseling.
Ninth Circuit has “established a two-step analysis for
determining the extent to which a claimant's symptom
testimony must be credited.” Trevizo v.
Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 678 (9th Cir. 2017). The ALJ
must first determine whether the claimant has presented
objective medical evidence of an impairment that
“‘could reasonably be expected to produce the
pain or other symptoms alleged.'” Id.
(quoting Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1014-15
(9th Cir. 2014)). At this stage, the claimant need only show
that the impairment could reasonably have caused some degree
of the symptoms; she does not have to show that the
impairment could reasonably be expected to cause the severity
of the symptoms alleged. Id. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff met this step because her medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the
symptoms she alleged. AR at 20.
claimant satisfies the first step, and there is no evidence
of malingering, the ALJ may only reject the claimant's
testimony “‘by offering specific, clear and
convincing reasons for doing so. This is not an easy
requirement to meet.'” Trevizo, 871 F.3d
at 678 (quoting Garrison, 759 F.3d at
1014-15). In evaluating the ALJ's determination
at this step, the Court may not substitute its judgment for
that of the ALJ. See Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Thomas, 278 F.3d
at 959). As long as substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, it should stand, even if some of the
ALJ's reasons for discrediting a claimant's testimony
fail. See Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1148
(9th Cir. 2001).
found that Plaintiff's testimony concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms
was “not entirely consistent with the entire case
record.” AR at 20. The ALJ gave three reasons for
discounting Plaintiff's testimony. First, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's testimony was not consistent
with the medical evidence. Id. at 20-21. Second, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff left her last job for
non-disability-related reasons and had worked for a number of
years before her alleged onset date despite the fact that her
conditions existed throughout that time. Id. at 21.
Third, Plaintiff's testimony was not consistent with her
daily activities. Id. at 21.
ALJ's first reason for rejecting Plaintiff's
testimony fails. An ALJ may reject a claimant's symptom
testimony when it is contradicted by the medical evidence.
See Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533
F.3d 1155 (“Contradiction with the medical record is a
sufficient basis for rejecting the claimant's subjective
testimony.”) (citing Johnson v. Shalala, 60
F.3d 1428, 1434 (9th Cir.1995)). But the ALJ must do more
than summarize the medical evidence. The ALJ must explain how
the medical evidence contradicts the Plaintiff's
testimony. See Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 421
(9th Cir. 1988). ALJ Adams described Plaintiff's overall
treatment history, but never directly confronted how that
contradicted Plaintiff's testimony. See AR at
20-21. And the ALJ's recitation of the medical evidence
does not reveal any obvious contradictions. See id.
ALJ's next reason for rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
testimony also fails. An ALJ may consider the claimant's
work history and the extent to which she was able to work
with her impairments in evaluating the claimant's
testimony. See Gregory v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 664, 667
(9th Cir. 1988). But the ALJ's conclusion must be
supported by substantial evidence. See Trevizo, 871
F.3d at 674. The ALJ pointed out that Plaintiff reported
significant back problems since 1998 but worked until the end
of 2009. AR at 21, 1005. Plaintiff's back problems were
only one aspect of her alleged impairments; she also alleged
shoulder and neck issues, among other things. See