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William A. D. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 18, 2019

WILLIAM A. D., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff appeals the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income. He contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by according the opinions of the testifying medical consultant and examining physicians greater weight than the opinions of his treating optometrist and physician, and erred in her determination of his credibility, all of which resulted in an erroneous residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment. Dkt. 8, p.1.

         The Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.


         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, on August 7, 2014, alleging disability commencing on August 3, 2013. Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since a workplace accident in which he slipped, fell, and hit his head and lost consciousness. He alleges that since the accident, he has had persistent double vision (diplopia), migraines and shoulder pain. Plaintiff's application was denied initially on June 5, 2015 and on reconsideration on October 29, 2015. Tr. 15. ALJ Marilyn S. Mauer presided over a hearing on May 18, 2017, and a supplemental hearing on August 30, 2017. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. A medical consultant and vocational consultant also testified.

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920), the ALJ determined at steps one through three, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial activity from his alleged onset date of August 3, 2013 through his date of last insured of December 31, 2014; Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: subjective diplopia, migraine, adhesive capsulitis in the left shoulder, and organic brain syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c)); and these impairments did not meet the Listings (20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1). Tr. 17, 18.

         At step four, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). In addition, Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can frequently balance, climb ramps and stairs with the aid of a handrail, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel; can occasionally reach overhead with the left arm; can work in a setting that does not require exposure to hazards such as unprotected height, large moving equipment, exposure to extreme cold temperatures, and vibration; can understand, remember and apply information, complete tasks with a GED reasoning level of 2 or less in a setting with occasional coworker contact and no public contact; and can perform tasks that do not require excellent depth perception. Tr. 20

         At step five, the ALJ relied on a vocational expert, who testified Plaintiff could work as a light office helper, router, and electronics worker. The vocational expert also testified that Plaintiff could still perform these jobs if he were limited to frequent fine manipulation with the dominant right hand, and if he were limited to only occasional reading, he could still perform the jobs of electronics worker and office helper. Tr. 28.

         The ALJ issued her decision denying Plaintiff's application on December 4, 2017. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 13, 2018. Thus, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner, and is ripe for judicial review.


         The Court will reverse the ALJ's decision only if it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or if the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). The ALJ's decision may not be reversed on account of an error that is harmless. Id. at 1111. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold the Commissioner's interpretation. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A. Evaluation of Medical Evidence

         1. Curtis Baxstrom, O.D.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion of his optometrist, Curtis Baxstrom, because the ALJ failed to consider Dr. Baxstrom's treating relationship with Plaintiff and his area of specialization, and ignored the hierarchy of medical opinions. See, e.g, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527; see also Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (treating physicians, who actually treat the claimant, examining physicians, who ...

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