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Ryan P. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 15, 2019

RYAN P., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's applications for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and 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. 2.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he failed to provide specific, legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence, to discount medical opinion evidence from Dr. Krueger, Dr. Neims, Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Ruddell, and Dr. Eisenhauer. Had the ALJ properly considered these medical opinions, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore harmful, and this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the Social Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings consistent with this Order.


         On December 28, 2009 and August 26, 2011 Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI respectively, alleging in both applications a disability onset date of September 10, 2009.[1] See Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 110. His applications were denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 110. A hearing was held before ALJ Gordon Griggs on September 20, 2011. AR 110. In a decision dated October 18, 2011, ALJ Griggs determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 107-23.

         On August 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed new applications for DIB and SSI, this time alleging a disability onset date of October 19, 2011. AR 25, 277-78, 279-84. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 25, 187-93, 194-202, 205-10, 211-17. A hearing was held before ALJ M.J. Adams on August 29, 2017. AR 75-106. On February 5, 2018, ALJ Adams issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. AR 22-36. On November 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the written decision by the ALJ the final agency decision subject to judicial review. AR 1-6; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to properly assess: (1) opinion evidence from William Chalstrom, Ph.D., John Gilbert, Ph.D., Guillermo Rubio, M.D., Michael Corpolongo, Ph.D., Dan Neims, Ph.D., Kimberly Wheeler, Ph.D., Keith Krueger, Ph.D., Renee Eisenhauer, Ph.D., Alysa Ruddell, Ph.D., and Dena Larsen, PT; (2) lay witness testimony from Plaintiff's father; and (3) the RFC and Step Five findings. Dkt. 10, pp. 4-16.


         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)).


         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff maintains the ALJ failed to properly consider opinion evidence from Dr. Chalstrom, Dr. Gilbert, Dr. Rubio, Dr. Corpolongo, Dr. Neims, Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Krueger, Dr. Eisenhauer, Dr. Ruddell, and Ms. Larsen. Dkt. 10, pp. 4-16.

         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)).

         “Other medical source” testimony, which the Ninth Circuit treats as lay witness testimony, “is competent evidence an ALJ must take into account, ” unless the ALJ “expressly determines to disregard such testimony and gives reasons germane to each witness for doing so.” Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 511 (9th Cir. 2001); Turner, 613 F.3d at 1224. In rejecting lay testimony, the ALJ need not cite the specific record as long as “arguably germane reasons” for dismissing the testimony are noted. Lewis, 236 F.3d at 512.

         A. Dr. Chalstrom

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly assess a medical opinion from examining psychologist Dr. ...

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