United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND
DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE
Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.
seeks review of the denial of her applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by discounting
several medical opinions, her testimony, and her mother's
lay witness statement. Dkt. 13. As discussed below, the Court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final
decision and DISMISSES the case with
is currently 39 years old, has a bachelor's degree, and
has worked as a nurse assistant, mental retardation aide, and
customer service representative. Dkt. 9, Administrative
Record (AR) 30. The parties agree that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substance abuse since May 2013. AR 26; Dkt. 13 at
7. Plaintiff applied for benefits in May 2014. AR 132. She
alleges disability as of August 2, 2012. AR 65.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. AR 154, 155, 190, 191. After the ALJ
conducted a hearing in November 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 60, 15-32.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the August 2012 alleged
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: polysubstance dependence, including
methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, opioids
(“street methadone, ” Dilaudid, morphine,
Vicodin), and cannabis; alcohol/substance withdrawal from
various street drugs/substance induced mood
tobacco dependence; degenerative disc disease of the cervical
Step three: These impairments, including the
substance use disorders, meet the requirements of listed
impairments 12.06 (anxiety and obsessive-compulsive
disorders) and 12.08 (personality and impulse-control
Drug Addiction and Alcoholism (DAA)
Analysis: Because the ALJ found Plaintiff
disabled at step three and there was medical evidence of
substance use disorders, the ALJ then repeated the five-step
process to determine whether the substance use disorders were
a contributing factor material to the determination of
Step two: If Plaintiff stopped the substance
use, the remaining impairments would continue to be severe.
Step three: If Plaintiff stopped the
substance use, the remaining impairments would not meet or
medically equal the requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: If Plaintiff
stopped the substance use, she could perform light work,
lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently and sitting and standing/walking 6 hours per day
each. She could frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
She would be limited to uncomplicated or routine tasks, no
greater than reasoning level 2. She should have no public
interaction and only occasional coworker interaction with no
tandem tasks, defined as more than one employee required to
complete the assigned duty. She could handle few workplace
changes and simple work-related decisions.
Step four: If Plaintiff stopped the
substance use, she could not perform past relevant work.
However, her college education would provide direct entry
into skilled work in the national economy.
Step five: In the alternative, there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform if she stopped the
The substance use disorder was a contributing factor material
to the determination of disability because Plaintiff would
not be disabled if she stopped the substance use.
Accordingly, Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act.
AR 18-32. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 1.
Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of Social
Security benefits only if the ALJ's decision is based on
legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). Each of an ALJ's findings must
be supported by substantial evidence. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998).
“Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla,
less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th
Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for evaluating evidence,
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. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947,
954, 957 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to
more than one interpretation, the ALJ's interpretation
must be upheld if rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400
F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005). This Court “may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1111 (9th Cir. 2012).
contends the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of examining
doctors Loreli Thompson, Ph.D., and Terilee Wingate, Ph.D.,
and non-examining state agency doctors Leslie Postovoit,
Ph.D., and Eugene Kester, M.D. Dkt. 13 at 3-5, 7.
may only reject the contradicted opinion of an examining
doctor by giving “specific and legitimate”
reasons. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th
Cir. 2017). The ALJ can meet this standard by providing
“a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and
conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings.” Id. (citation
omitted). “The ALJ must do more than offer his
conclusions. He must ...