United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DENIAL OF BENEFITS
B. Leighton, United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt.
4) for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
denial of her application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits. This is the second time this
matter has been before the Court. See Admin. Record
(“AR”) (Dkt. 8) at 557-73.
has severe impairments of inflammatory arthropathy,
degenerative disc disease, obesity, affective disorder,
anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”), and posttraumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”). Id. at 535. Plaintiff applied
for SSI benefits on April 12, 2013, alleging disability as of
that date. Id. at 35-36, 169.
Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review and
on reconsideration. Id. at 83-93, 95-105.
Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Kimberly Boyce held a hearing on
Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 28-81. On April 9,
2015, ALJ Boyce issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled and denying her claim for benefits. Id. at
10-22. The Appeals Council denied review. Id. at
3-5. Plaintiff then sought review before this Court. See
Id. at 557-59.
March 31, 2017, Magistrate Judge Karen L. Strombom issued a
decision reversing and remanding the ALJ's decision for
further administrative proceedings. Id. at 560-73.
Magistrate Judge Strombom held that ALJ Boyce erred in
evaluating the medical opinions of examining doctors Monica
Pilarc, Ph.D., and Gene McConnachie, Ph.D. Id. at
563-66. Plaintiff also challenged the ALJ's evaluation of
the medical opinions of John Haroian, Ph.D., but Magistrate
Judge Strombom did not address this issue. See Id.
at 561. Magistrate Judge Strombom further held that ALJ Boyce
erred in rejecting Plaintiff's subjective symptom
testimony. Id. at 566-72.
remand, ALJ Boyce held a second hearing. Id. at
1143-89. ALJ Boyce issued her second decision on July 25,
2018. Id. at 532-50. ALJ Boyce again found that
Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her claim for benefits.
Id. The Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction,
so the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final
decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(d).
argues that ALJ Boyce erred in evaluating (a) Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony and (b) the medical opinion
evidence. Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. 11) at 1. Plaintiff asks the
Court to remand this matter for further administrative
proceedings. Id. at 18.
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 Did Not Harmfully Err in Rejecting
contends the ALJ erred in rejecting her subjective symptom
testimony. Pl. Op. Br. at 16-18. Plaintiff focuses her
argument on the ALJ's analysis of her testimony regarding
her mental symptoms, so the Court will do the same.
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 have caused some degree of the
symptoms; she does not have to show that the impairment could
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 have
caused the symptoms she alleged. AR at 537.
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. Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604
(9th Cir. 1989). As long as the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, 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 evidence of malingering here. AR at 545. In particular,
ALJ Boyce noted that Plaintiff's responses to a
psychological test administered by Dr. Pilarc
“suggested a tendency to magnify [Plaintiff's]
illness, and an inclination to complain.” Id.
Affirmative evidence of malingering-standing alone-can
support an ALJ's rejection of the plaintiff's
testimony. See Schow v. Astrue, 272 Fed.Appx. 647,
651 (9th Cir. 2008) (The existence of “affirmative
evidence suggesting malingering vitiates the clear and
convincing standard of review”) (internal quotation
marks omitted). The ALJ continued on in her analysis, giving
six other reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
testimony. AR at ...