United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION
AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
A. TSUCHIDA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
appeals the ALJ's decision finding her not disabled. The
ALJ found plaintiff's mild post-arrest anoxic
encephalopathy, COPD, anemia, scoliosis, congenital heart
disease with tetralogy of Fallot Status-Post defibrillator,
anxiety disorder versus depressive disorder, and somatization
disorder are severe impairments; plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with
additional limitations; and plaintiff cannot perform past
relevant work but is not disabled because she can perform
other jobs in the national economy. Tr. 20-42.
contends the ALJ erroneously rejected the opinions of
examining doctor Daniel Neims, Psy.D., and that the Court
should remand the case for further proceedings. Dkt. 8. The
Court agrees and REVERSES the
Commissioner's final decision and
REMANDS the matter for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
Neims examined plaintiff and opined she was markedly limited
in her ability to adapt to changes in the workplace, make
simple-work related decision, maintain appropriate behavior,
complete a normal workday; set realistic goals and plan
independently. Tr. 715. The doctor also found plaintiff was
moderately limited in her ability to perform work within a
schedule, ask simple questions, and communicate and perform
effectively at work. Id. Dr. Neims concluded
plaintiff could not perform substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”). Tr. 720.
gave no weight to the moderate and marked limitations Dr.
Neims assessed. Tr. 37. The ALJ rejected these opinions first
finding the doctor “failed to provide any explanation
for the boxes he checked.” Id. The record
shows otherwise. Dr. Neims administered and scored the
Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAMA) and the Hamilton Rating Scale
for Depression. Tr. 723-727. Plaintiff's scores indicated
moderate to severe anxiety and very severe depression. Tr.
718. Dr. Neims made clinical observations that plaintiff was
anxious and tearful; displayed help-seeking behavior
associated with unresolved trauma; was dysphoric and anxious
and had shallow shifting affect. Tr. 716. The doctor noted
plaintiff had profound chronic pain behavior, unresolved
traumatic stress with intrusive thoughts and has strong
suspect affective instability that resulted in negative
relations with others and help-seeking behavior. Tr. 714.
Given the doctors testing and clinical findings, the Court
concludes the ALJ's finding is not supported by
also rejected Dr. Neims' opinions on the grounds
plaintiff was malingering. Dr. Neims administered the Rey
Fifteen Factor Test and concluded plaintiff's score
technically indicated malingering. Tr. 718. However, the
doctor rejected malingering and instead found plaintiff's
scores are “seen as clearly representing psychological
factors affecting perception.” Id. In other
words, Dr. Neims did not find plaintiff was intentionally
magnifying her symptoms for gain, and instead found her
behavior flowed from her mental health problems. The ALJ
rejected the doctor's opinion because of
“inconsistencies” which the ALJ found showed
plaintiff intentionally exaggerated her symptoms for gain,
“not as a help-seeking measure.” Id.
erred. An ALJ cannot usurp the role of doctors when
interpreting medical evidence. Trevizo v. Berryhill,
871 F.3d 664, 683 (9th Cir. 2017) (“The ALJ ...
reject[ed] the informed medical opinion of [Plaintiff's]
primary treating physician and instead improperly substituted
her judgment for that of the doctor.”); Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1013-14 (9th Cir. 2014)
(reiterating that “[t]he ALJ must set forth his own
interpretations and explain why they, rather than the
doctors', are correct”); see also Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 870 (7th Cir. 2000) (“As this
Court has counseled on many occasions, ALJs must not succumb
to the temptation to play doctor and make their own
independent medical findings.”). Here, the ALJ arrived
at her own medical determination that inconsistencies in
plaintiff's statements or actions established she was
malingering. The ALJ's finding is not based upon other
medical opinions that contradict Dr. Neims' opinion about
malingering. The ALJ also does not clearly explain why Dr.
Neims is incorrect. Dr. Neims was fully aware plaintiff was
“help seeking with patterns of dramatic symptom
endorsement.” Tr. 716. But he found plaintiff's
behavior was a consequence of how her mental illness affected
her perception. The ALJ provides nothing explaining why this
is not the case.
Commissioner also argues the ALJ properly rejected Dr.
Neim's opinions in view of “inconsistencies in
Plaintiff's presentation, ” and because examining
doctor Stephanie Hanson, Ph.D. noted inconsistencies in
Plaintiff's actions and answers. Dkt. 9 at 4-5. The
Commissioner argues these inconsistencies undermine Dr.
Neim's opinions. The Court rejects the argument.
Notwithstanding the inconsistencies noted by the Commissioner
and noted by Dr. Hanson, Dr. Hanson nonetheless concluded
“it is unlikely that [Plaintiff] would likely be able,
based solely on psychological functioning to maintain work
for eight hours a day, five days per week without significant
accommodation.” Tr. 609. Hence the record shows Dr.
Hanson's opinions support rather than undercut Dr.
Neim's opinions notwithstanding the inconsistencies
exhibited by Plaintiff. The ALJ's determination is
accordingly not supported by substantial evidence.
foregoing reasons, the Commissioner's decision is
REVERSED and this case is
REMANDED for further administrative
proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
remand, the ALJ shall reassess the opinions of Dr. Neims,
develop the record and redetermine Plaintiff's RFC as