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Joyce B. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 14, 2019

JOYCE B., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          David W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 3.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not err when he rejected medical opinion evidence from examining physician Dr. Anselm Parlatore, M.D. Hence, the ALJ did not err in his assessment of Plaintiff's mental impairments at Step Two. The ALJ also did not err in his evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony, and therefore, did not err when he did not include Plaintiff's testimony about her migraine headaches in the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment. Because the ALJ's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of September 1, 2014. See Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (“AR”) 18. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 18. ALJ Larry Kennedy held a hearing on November 16, 2017. AR 41-89. In a decision dated December 28, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 15-40. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-9; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to properly assess: (1) Dr. Parlatore's medical opinion, and thus, Plaintiff's mental impairments at Step Two; (2) Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; and (3) the RFC, in light of limitations purportedly stemming from Plaintiff's migraine headaches. See Dkt. 10.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this 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) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered Dr. Parlatore's medical opinion.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in his consideration of medical opinion evidence from Dr. Parlatore, who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. Dkt. 10, pp. 10-19. Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of the ALJ's the failure to properly assess Dr. Parlatore's opinion, the ALJ erred in his Step Two findings about Plaintiff's depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Id. at pp. 11-14, 17-19.

         In assessing an acceptable medical source, an ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or examining physician. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)); Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)). When a treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted, the opinion can be rejected “for specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31 (citing Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 1995); Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)). The ALJ can accomplish this 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 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         On September 23, 2015, Dr. Parlatore conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. AR 456-60. Dr. Parlatore's evaluation included reviewing with Plaintiff her present illnesses; her social, family, and medical history; and her daily activities. AR 456-59. Dr. Parlatore also conducted a mental status examination. AR 459. Dr. Parlatore diagnosed Plaintiff with PTSD and sleep apnea. AR 459. In addition, he diagnosed Plaintiff with depressive disorder “due to another medical disorder, ” citing Plaintiff's “fluctuating thyroid and parathyroid levels and chronic pain.” AR 459.

         In a medical source statement, Dr. Parlatore opined Plaintiff's “social interaction and adaptation are markedly affected by her chronic pain.” AR 460. He found Plaintiff's “appropriateness, independence, sustainability, quality and effectiveness . . . markedly impaired.” AR 460. Further, Dr. Parlatore determined Plaintiff “does not engage in social relations in an autonomous, self-directed basis without some direction.” AR 460. Similarly, Plaintiff “does ...


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