United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
W. CHRISTEL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion
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.
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)).
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.
argues the ALJ failed to properly assess a medical opinion
from examining psychologist Dr. ...