United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
A. TSUCHIDA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Aaron S. seeks review of the denial of his applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. He contends that the ALJ erroneously evaluated the
medical evidence, the lay witness evidence, and his own
testimony. Dkt.11. The Court REVERSES the
Commissioner's final decision and
REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
is currently 46 years old, has an 11th grade education, and
has worked as a maintenance mechanic, industrial truck
operator, and yard worker. Tr. 44, 61, 200. He applied for
benefits in September 2011, alleging disability as of August
2015. Tr. 200, 207. He later amended his application to a
closed period ending in July 2017, when he returned to work.
Tr. 40. After his applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration, the ALJ conducted a hearing and, on January
5, 2018, issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled.
Tr. 15-29. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision is the
Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity during the relevant period; he had the following
severe impairments: headaches, left shoulder disorder, spine
disorder, seizure disorder, duodenal ulcer, and
neurocognitive disorder; and these impairments did not meet
or equal the requirements of a listed
impairment. Tr. 17-18. The ALJ found that plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity to perform light work,
with additional postural, reaching, and environmental
limitations, and he was limited to jobs with a reasoning
level of 2 or less, performing simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks, but not at a production rate pace, and
tolerating only occasional changes in a routine work setting.
Tr. 20-21. The ALJ found that plaintiff could not perform his
past relevant work, but there were jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
could have performed, he was not disabled during the relevant
period. Tr. 28-29.
argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of
Stephen Meharg, Ph.D. Dkt. 11 at 3. The ALJ must give
specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting a treating or
examining doctor's opinion that is contradicted by
another doctor, and clear and convincing reasons for
rejecting a treating or examining doctor's uncontradicted
opinion. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th
Meharg conducted a neuropsychological examination in January
2016. Tr. 541-49. Dr. Meharg expressed some concerns about
plaintiff's effort and motivation, noting that plaintiff
seemed to make a variety of unusual errors and show rather
significant difficulties on otherwise simple tasks. Tr. 545.
He also noted that plaintiff was very slow in his responses
and took considerable time to deliberate, which Dr. Meharg
found to be generally consistent with some of plaintiff's
vague and unexpected difficulties on reasoning tasks during
the mental status examination. Id. Dr. Meharg noted
that the cognitive study reflected mixed findings with better
performance in complex mental tracking and visual capacity
memory but weak skills in verbal learning and memory. Tr.
548. He diagnosed mild neurocognitive disorder due to another
medical condition, status post resection of cava septum
pellucidum 1.8 cm cyst. Tr. 549. He opined that plaintiff
would have moderate difficulties in learning and retention of
new procedures, including assigned tasks and work processes;
he was likely to show rapid forgetting of verbal
instructions, although he seemed capable of memorizing visual
materials in adequate fashion; and he retained some cognitive
resources in the midst of more selective deficits of verbal
memory. Id. He opined that plaintiff was capable of
managing his own funds. Id.
Meharg completed a medical source assessment in August 2016.
Tr. 611-12. He opined that plaintiff would have noticeable
difficulty from 11 to 20% of the workday or workweek in the
following areas: understand, remember, and carry out detailed
instructions, maintain attention and concentration for
extended periods of time, maintain regular attendance,
complete a normal workday or workweek without interruption
from psychological symptoms, perform at a consistent pace
without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods,
and travel in unfamiliar places or use public transportation.
Tr. 611-12. He opined plaintiff would have noticeable
difficulty up to 10% of the time in numerous other functional
areas. Id. He opined that plaintiff showed mild
memory impairment along with several areas of intact
gave great weight to Dr. Meharg's January 2016 opinion
that plaintiff could manage his own funds, finding it
consistent with the unremarkable mental status examinations
in the file and with Dr. Meharg's own examination
findings. Tr. 26. But the ALJ gave Dr. Meharg's August
2016 opinion little weight because Dr. Meharg wrote it seven
months after his examination and it was unclear what evidence
Dr. Meharg used to support his findings. Tr. 27. The ALJ also
found that the opinion was internally inconsistent, finding
that the limitations Dr. Meharg opined were inconsistent with
his statement that plaintiff showed only mild memory loss and
had several areas of intact functioning, and that the opinion
was excessive in comparison to the findings from Dr.
Meharg's earlier examination. Id.
argues that the ALJ erred by failing to address Dr.
Meharg's opinion from January 2016 that plaintiff was
likely to show rapid forgetting of verbal instructions, as
the ALJ did not indicate the weight the placed upon this
opinion or include it in the RFC finding or the hypothetical
to the vocational expert. Dkt. 11 at 4. The court agrees. The
ALJ must provide valid reasons to reject a medical opinion.
See Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31. But here, although
the ALJ included a limitation to jobs with a reasoning level
of 2 or less and to performing simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks, the ALJ failed to include a limitation on
the ability to remember verbal instructions and did not give
a reason for rejecting this limitation. This omission renders
the RFC finding, and the vocational expert's testimony
based on it, invalid.
also argues that the ALJ erred by giving little weight to Dr.
Meharg's August 2016 assessment, arguing that the ALJ
failed to explain the significance of the fact that Dr.
Meharg wrote the opinion seven months after his examination
and that it is clear that Dr. Meharg based his opinion on the
examination he conducted. Dkt. 11 at 5. Plaintiff also ...