United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR AN AWARD OF
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
seeks review of the denial of her application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Plaintiff contends the
ALJ erred by rejecting the opinion of James Czysz, Psy.D.
Dkt. 12. The Court agrees. As discussed below, the Court
REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS
the matter for an award of benefits under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
is currently 47 years old, is not able to communicate
effectively in English, and has worked as a meat trimmer.
Dkt. 10, Admin. Record (AR) 1677. Plaintiff alleges
disability as of the December 7, 2011, application date. AR
69, 238. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, on
reconsideration, and by an ALJ decision in 2013. AR 67, 68,
93, 94, 26. On appeal to this court, the case was remanded
for further proceedings based on the parties'
stipulation. AR 715-16. After a 2015 ALJ decision denying
benefits, Plaintiff appealed again to this court, which
reversed the decision for reasons including erroneously
rejecting Dr. Czysz's opinions. AR 654, 1357, 1359-62.
After a 2016 ALJ decision again denying benefits, this court
reversed the decision again for reasons including erroneously
rejecting Dr. Czysz's opinions. AR 1227, 1741, 1746-48.
In November 2018, the ALJ issued the decision at issue here,
finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 1647-78.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found:
one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the December 2011 alleged onset date.
two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
major depressive disorder, psychotic disorder, posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive disorder, degenerative disc
disease, and right 5th metacarpal fracture.
three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Functional Capacity: Before April 4, 2013, Plaintiff
could perform work at all exertional levels. She could
perform simple routine tasks, work superficially and
occasionally with the general public, work in the same room
as coworkers but not in coordination with them, and adapt to
simple workplace changes. Reading English and performing
calculations could not have been the focus of the job.
April 4, 2013, Plaintiff can perform light work, with no
sitting, standing, or walking limitations. She can
occasionally crawl and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds.
She can frequently perform fine fingering and gross handling
with her right upper extremity. She can perform simple
routine tasks, work superficially and occasionally with the
general public, work in the same room as coworkers but not in
coordination with them, and adapt to simple workplace
changes. Reading English and performing calculations cannot
be the focus of the job.
four: Before April 4, 2013, Plaintiff could perform
past relevant work as a meat trimmer.
April 4, 2013, Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work.
five: As there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that
can perform, she is not disabled.
1649-78. The Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
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).
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
Czysz provided opinions on a Psychological/Psychiatric
Evaluation form in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017, each time
after examining Plaintiff. AR 428, 1003, 1640, 2031. Each
time, Dr. Czysz diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive
disorder, recurrent, severe with psychotic features. AR 426,
1001, 1638, 2029. Although the form changed over the years,
Dr. Czysz opined each time that Plaintiff was “not
… employable” or had marked impairments in basic
work requirements such as attendance and performing routine
tasks without special supervision. AR 427, 1003, 1640, 2030.
The ALJ rejected all four opinions. AR 1671-74.
January 2012 Opinion 1. Internal Consistency
found it inconsistent that Dr. Czysz determined that
Plaintiff was “clearly psychotic” yet checked
“no” when asked if he observed auditory
hallucinations. AR 1671 (citing AR 428, 426). In the
“Attitude and Behavior” category of the Mental
Status Exam, Dr. Czysz wrote that Plaintiff “was
agitated, appeared frightened, and she is clearly
psychotic.” AR 428. In other words, Dr. Czysz reported
that he observed psychotic attitudes or behaviors. The core
of psychosis is “loss of contact with reality.”
The American Heritage Dictionary for the English
Language (4th ed. 2000), “psychosis.” That
Dr. Czysz did not observe auditory hallucinations would only
be contradictory if auditory hallucinations were the only
type of psychotic behavior. The ALJ cites nothing in the
record that would support such a conclusion and is not
qualified to draw such a conclusion by substituting her own
medical judgment in place of Dr. Czysz's. See
Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 683 (it is improper for an ALJ
to substitute her judgment for a doctor's). Internal
inconsistency was not a specific and legitimate reason to
discount Dr. Czysz's opinions.
Conflict with ...