United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DENIAL OF
B. Leighton, United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Michael N.'s
Complaint (Dkt. 3) for review of the Commissioner of Social
Security's denial of his application for disability
insurance benefits. Plaintiff has severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease,
lumbago, sciatica, hip abnormalities, left rotator cuff
syndrome, chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, major
depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,
osteoarthritis, and spondylolisthesis. Admin. Record
(“AR”) (Dkt. 7) at 50. Plaintiff applied for
disability benefits on September 11, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of January 14, 2015. See Id.
at 218-19. Plaintiff's application was denied on initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. Id. at
Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) David Johnson held a hearing on
Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 72-110. On November
15, 2017, ALJ Johnson issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled and denying his claim for benefits. Id. at
the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff submitted additional
medical evidence to the Appeals Council. See Id. at
8-39. That evidence documented Plaintiff's treatment from
May 7-10, 2018, including back surgery. See id.
September 21, 2018, the Appeals Council issued a notice
denying review. Id. at 1-4. The Appeals Council
determined that Plaintiff's newly submitted evidence did
not relate to the period of disability at issue, and did not
affect the ALJ's decision. Id. at 2. Plaintiff
then sought review before this Court. See Compl.
argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of
examining psychologist Alexander Patterson, Psy.D., and the
Appeals Council erred in rejecting Plaintiff's newly
submitted evidence. Pl. Op. Br. (Dkt. 9) at 1.
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 Dr. Patterson's
contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting Dr. Patterson's
medical opinions. Pl. Op. Br. at 4-11. The Court agrees.
Patterson examined Plaintiff on January 8, 2016. AR at
375-79. Dr. Patterson opined that Plaintiff had normal
reasoning, judgment, understanding, and memory. Id.
at 379. He opined that Plaintiff's ability to sustain
concentration and persist were mildly impaired due to
anxiety. Id. Dr. Patterson opined that
Plaintiff's interpersonal functioning and adaptation
skills were severely impaired. Id. In terms of work
capabilities, Dr. Patterson opined that Plaintiff would have
difficulty maintaining consistent attendance and timeliness;
completing work-related tasks; maintaining relationships with
coworkers, supervisors, and the public; and managing normal
work-related stress. Id.
gave Dr. Patterson's opinions little weight. Id.
at 58-59. The ALJ reasoned that (1) the limits to which Dr.
Patterson opined were due to exacerbations of Plaintiffs
conditions that did not persist over 12 months, (2) Dr.
Patterson's opinions conflicted with those of examining
doctor Philip Gibson, Ph.D., and Dr. Gibson had the benefit
of seeing more recent objective medical evidence, and (3) Dr.
Patterson's opinions were inconsistent with the overall
medical evidence. Id.
reject the opinions of an examining doctor that are
contradicted, the ALJ must provide “specific and
legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence
in the record.” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830-31 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Andrews, 53 F.3d at
1042). The ALJ can satisfy this requirement “by setting
out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and
conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d ...