United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION
AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE
J. PECHMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
seeks review of the denial of his applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income.
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by rejecting his testimony
and several medical opinions. Dkt. 12. As discussed below,
the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
final decision and DISMISSES the case with
is currently 36 years old, has at least a high school
education, and has worked as an end user support specialist,
assisting desktop computer users. Dkt. 8, Admin. Record (AR)
33-34, 53, 102. Plaintiff alleges disability as of November
5, 2013. AR 19. He had neck surgery on May 14, 2015. AR 724.
After the ALJ conducted hearings in September 2015 and April
2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled. AR 46, 68, 19-36.
the five-step disability evaluation process outlined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found:
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the November 2013 alleged
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
and status post cervical fusion at ¶ 5-6.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or
equal the requirements of a listed impairment under 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Residual Functional Capacity: Through May
13, 2016 (one year after neck surgery): Plaintiff could
perform sedentary work. He could occasionally kneel, crouch,
stoop, and climb ramps and stairs. He could not crawl; climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; or be exposed to unprotected
heights, moving machinery, vibration, and concentrated
extreme cold. He could not reach overhead with either upper
Since May 14, 2016: Plaintiff can perform light work. He can
stand for three hours, walk for two hours, and sit for six
hours per day. He can occasionally kneel, crouch, stoop, and
climb ramps and stairs. He cannot crawl; climb ladders, ropes
or scaffolds; or be exposed to unprotected heights, moving
machinery, vibration, and concentrated extreme cold. He
cannot reach overhead with either upper extremity.
Step four: Plaintiff can, and could prior to
May 14, 2016, perform past relevant work as a user support
Step five: In the alternative, there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could have performed through May 13,
2016, and that Plaintiff has been able to perform since May
14, 2016. Therefore, he is not disabled.
21-36. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision. AR 3. The rest of the procedural history is
not relevant to the outcome of the case and is thus omitted.
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).
treating physician's opinion is generally entitled to
greater weight than an examining physician's opinion, and
an examining physician's opinion is entitled to greater
weight than a non-examining physician's opinion.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir.
2014). An ALJ may only reject the uncontradicted opinion of a
treating or examining doctor by giving “clear and
convincing” reasons. Revels v. Berryhill, 874
F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Even if a treating or
examining doctor's opinion is contradicted by another
doctor's opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by stating
“specific and legitimate” reasons. Id.
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 set
forth his own interpretations and explain why they, rather
than the doctors', are correct.” Reddick,
157 F.3d at 725.
physicians and certain other qualified specialists are
considered ‘[a]cceptable medical sources.'”
Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1161 (9th Cir.
2014) (alteration in original); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1502(a), (d), (e); 416.902(a), (i), (j).
Under the regulations applicable when Plaintiff filed his
applications, a nurse practitioner was a non-acceptable
medical source. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1502(a), 416.902(a). An ALJ may reject the opinion of a
non-acceptable medical source by giving reasons germane to
the opinion. Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1161.
2014, Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Foster,
diagnosed Plaintiff with lumbago and cervicalgia, and opined
that these conditions significantly interfered with
Plaintiff's abilities to walk, lift, carry, handle, push,
pull, reach, stoop, and crouch. AR 635. Dr. Foster opined
that Plaintiff was limited to sedentary work. AR 636. The ALJ
gave “some weight” to this opinion, incorporating
corresponding limitations into the RFC. AR 29, 24. Plaintiff
describes Dr. Foster's May 2014 opinion but does not
appear to challenge the ALJ's treatment of it.
See Dkt. 12 at 3.
2014, Dr. Foster opined that Plaintiff could sit four hours
per day, stand/walk two hours per day, and lift 10 pounds
frequently. AR 693. He could sit or stand 30 minutes before
changing position, and would need to walk around for 10
minutes every hour. Id. He needed the opportunity to
sit, stand, or walk at will. Id. He could never
twist, stoop, crouch, or climb stairs or ladders, and his
reach and manipulation were limited. AR 694. He would need to
lie down at unpredictable intervals approximately every one
to two hours, and would miss about four days of work per
month due to his impairments and treatment. Id.
gave Dr. Foster's July 2014 opinions “limited
weight, ” accepting the limitations to lifting 10
pounds and walking two hours per day but rejecting the