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Megan J. C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 29, 2019

MEGAN J. C., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          DAVID W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's application for 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. 3.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in her consideration of medical opinion evidence from Dr. Wendy R. Eider, M.D., and Dr. Terilee Wingate, Ph.D. Had the ALJ properly considered these opinions, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is therefore not harmless, 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.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of January 31, 2014. See Dkt. 9, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 20. ALJ Marilyn S. Mauer held a hearing on April 7, 2017. AR 45-75. In a decision dated September 26, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 17-41. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to: (1) properly consider opinion evidence from Drs. Eider and Wingate, as well as Dr. Joseph D. Byus, D.C.; Dr. Daniel Davenport, M.D.; Dr. Barney Greenspan, Ph.D.; and Dr. Robert Vestal, M.D.; (2) provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony, and germane reasons for discrediting lay witness testimony from Plaintiff's husband and the owner of Plaintiff's former employer; and (3) state an RFC assessment and Step Five findings supported by substantial evidence. Dkt. 15, pp. 2-19.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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)).

         DISCUSSION

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

         Plaintiff asserts the ALJ failed to properly consider opinion evidence from Drs. Eider, Wingate, Byus, Davenport, Greenspan, and Vestal. Dkt. 15, pp. 3-9.

         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 [her] 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)).

         A. Dr. Eider

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ harmfully erred by failing to state her assessment of Dr. ...


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