United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
A. TSUCHIDA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) finding her not disabled and contends the
ALJ erred in evaluating medical opinion evidence. Dkt. 1. The
undersigned concludes that the ALJ committed reversible error
in his evaluations and that remand for further proceedings is
necessary to resolve the error. Therefore, the Court
recommends REVERSING the Commissioner's
final decision and REMANDING the case for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
September 4, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed applications
for Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income
benefits. Tr. 280. Plaintiff claimed disability with an
alleged onset date of June 5, 2015. Tr. 283, 285. The claims
were denied initially on January 29, 2016, and upon
reconsideration on May 4, 2016. Tr. 182, 192, 198. On
November 6, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative
Law Judge Vadim Mozyrsky. Tr. 39.
the five step sequential evaluation process,  the ALJ found at
step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At steps two
and three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe
impairments including asthma, allergies, borderline
intellectual functioning, anxiety, depression,
schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and alcohol use
disorder - none of which met or medically equaled one of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Tr. 18.
steps three and four, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the
following non-exertional limitations:
[S]he is limited to no concentrated exposure to humidity and
wetness; she is limited to no concentrated exposure to
airborne irritants, such as dust, fumes, and gases; she is
limited to a moderate noise environment; she is limited to
simple, routine, repetitive tasks and simple work related
decisions; she is limited to superficial contact with the
public, such as passing people in hallways, but no direct
contact as part of the actual job requirements; she is
limited to tolerating few changes in a routine work setting
(defined as having routine tasks in the same environment
Tr. 21. At step four the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable
to perform her past relevant work. Tr. 29. At step five,
based on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ
identified three jobs, requiring Level 2 reasoning, that
Plaintiff could perform based on the given hypothetical:
production assembler (DOT at 706.687-010, laundry sorter (DOT
at 361.687-014), and hand packager-inspector (DOT at
559.687-074). Tr. 30; see Tr. 59. Finally, the ALJ
found that these jobs existed in significant numbers in the
national economy. Tr. 30.
issued his decision on January 19, 2018finding Plaintiff not
disabled. Tr. 31. On November 14, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 260), making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security. Tr. 1.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
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 (9th Cir.
2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be
deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the
ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited
sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a
whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of
the case.” Id.
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 determining credibility,
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 Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
Id. However, the Court may not affirm the decision
of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
Medical Opinion Evidence
is responsible for determining credibility and resolving
ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir.
1998). Where the evidence is inconclusive,
“‘questions of credibility and resolution of
conflicts are functions solely of the [ALJ]'” and
this Court will uphold those conclusions. Morgan v.
Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601
(9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Sample v. Schweiker, 694
F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982)). As part of this discretion,
the ALJ determines whether inconsistencies in the evidence
“are material (or are in fact inconsistencies at all)
and whether certain factors are relevant” in deciding
how to weigh medical opinions. Id. at 603. The ALJ
can meet this burden by setting out a detailed and thorough
summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence,
stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.
Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 751. ...