United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
OPINION AND ORDER TO REVERSE THE COMMISSIONER'S
DECISION TO DENY DISABILITY BENEFITS
Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.
brought this matter for judicial review of the
Commissioner's denial of his application for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance
benefits (“DBI”). For the reasons below, the
decision to deny benefits is reversed and remanded for
ISSUE FOR REVIEW, AND COURT'S HOLDING
ALJ err by providing legally insufficient reasons, based on
less than substantial evidence, to discount the opinion of
examining psychologist Alysa A. Ruddell, Ph.D.? The Court
holds that the ALJ erred and this case will be remanded for
further administrative proceedings, as discussed below.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
24, 2015, plaintiff applied for SSI and DBI, alleging
disability beginning January 15, 2015. Dkt. 6, Administrative
Record (“AR”) p. 15. His application was denied
on initial administrative review and on reconsideration.
Id. Plaintiff appeared and testified before
administrative law judge Allen G. Erickson (the
“ALJ”) on February 7, 2017. AR 35-95. On July 19,
2017, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled.
See AR 15-30.
Commissioner employs a five-step process in determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If
the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step
thereof, the disability determination is made at that step,
and the sequential evaluation process ends. Id. Step
one considers whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Kennedy v.
Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)). Step two considers “the
severity of the claimant's impairments. Id. If
the claimant is found to have a severe impairment, step three
considers “whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals a listing under 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.” Id.
“If so, the claimant is considered disabled and
benefits are awarded, ending the inquiry.” Id.
If not, the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is considered at step four in determining
whether the claimant can still do his or her past relevant
work and, if necessary, at step five “make an
adjustment to other work.” Id.
case at step one, the ALJ determined plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since plaintiff's
alleged onset date. AR 17. At step two, the ALJ found
plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
obesity; major depressive disorder; post traumatic stress
disorder; [and] insomnia[.]” AR 17 (citations omitted).
At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. AR 20.
to step four, the ALJ determined plaintiff has the RFC to
perform light work with some additional climbing, postural,
environmental, and mental limitations. AR 23. With respect to
plaintiff's mental RFC, the ALJ determined plaintiff can
“understand, remember, and apply short, simple
instructions; can perform routine tasks, not in a fast paced
production type environment; can make simple decisions; and
can have occasional interactions with the general
public.” Id. After determining plaintiff's
RFC, the ALJ found at step four that he could not perform his
past relevant work, but that at step five he could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, and therefore found plaintiff was not disabled. AR
request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by
the Appeals Council. AR 1. Plaintiff appealed to this Court
on August 2, 2018. Dkt. 1. The Parties have consented to
proceed before a magistrate judge. Dkt. 3.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017).
Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires
“more than a mere scintilla, ” though “less
than a preponderance” of the evidence. Id.;
Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674-75 (9th Cir.
Court must consider the administrative record as a whole.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). It must weigh both the evidence that supports, and
evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion.
Id. The Court considers in its review only the
reasons the ALJ identified and may not affirm for a different
reason. Id. Furthermore, “[l]ong-standing
principles of administrative law require us to review the
ALJ's decision based on the reasoning and actual findings
offered by the ALJ-not post hoc rationalizations that attempt
to intuit what the adjudicator may have been thinking.”
Bray v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1225-26
(9th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).
the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation,
” the Court must uphold the ALJ's finding.
Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984).
It is unnecessary for the ALJ to “discuss all
evidence presented”. Vincent on Behalf of Vincent
v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984)
(citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The ALJ must only
explain why “significant probative evidence has been
rejected.” Id. The Court should consider that
“‘[w]here there is conflicting evidence
sufficient to support either outcome, ...