United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
THERESA L. FRICKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
has brought this matter for judicial review of
Defendant's denial of her applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income benefits. The
parties have consented to have this matter heard by the
undersigned Magistrate Judge. For the reasons set forth
below, the undersigned agrees that the ALJ erred and the
ALJ's decision is reversed and remanded for an award of
ISSUES FOR REVIEW
the ALJ err in evaluating the medical opinion evidence?
the ALJ err in evaluating Plaintiff's subjective
the ALJ err in assessing Plaintiff's residual functional
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
March 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplementary security income. AR 14,
230-38, 239-49. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of February 28, 2009. Id.
Plaintiff's applications were denied upon initial
administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 144-47,
151-55, 156-64. The first hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kimberly Boyce
on April 9, 2014. AR 34-63, 717-46. In a decision dated, June
24, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR
11-27, 665-81. The Social Security Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on October 2, 2015. AR
filed a complaint with this Court; on October 18, 2016, the
Court reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for
further administrative proceedings. AR 695, 696-710.
25, 2017, ALJ Boyce held a new hearing, AR 634-64, and
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 610-26.
Plaintiff appealed to this Court and seeks an order remanding
this case either for further administrative proceedings or an
award of benefits. Dkt. 10, p. 18.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the
decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Revels v.
Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017).
Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019). This requires “more than a
mere scintilla” of evidence. Id.
Court must consider the administrative record as a whole.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that
supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's
conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the
decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not
rely. Id. Only the reasons identified by the ALJ are
considered in the scope of the Court's review.
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. The ALJ assesses the
claimant's RFC to determine, at step four, whether the
plaintiff can perform past relevant work, and if necessary,
at step five to determine whether the plaintiff can adjust to
other work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175
(9th Cir. 2013). The ALJ has the burden of proof at step five
to show that a significant number of jobs that the claimant
can perform exist in the national economy. Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following serious
medical conditions: Diabetes mellitus, obesity, palmoplantar
keratoderma, left ankle degenerative joint disease based on
an old fracture, and depression. AR 615. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff could not perform her previous work, but determined
there were sedentary occupations that Plaintiff would be able
to perform; therefore the ALJ determined at step 5 that
Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 618, 625.
Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinion
alleges that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of
examining physicians William Alto, M.D., Soada Zubair, M.D.,
and non-examining physician Jessica McHugh, M.D. Dkt. 10, pp.
assessing an acceptable medical source - such as a medical
doctor - the 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)).
maintains that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of
examining physician Dr. William Alto. Dkt. 10, pp. 4-5.
Alto evaluated Plaintiff on May 2, 2013 for the Washington
State Department of Social and Health Services
(“DSHS”). AR 521-25. Dr. Alto assessed Plaintiff
as being able to perform sedentary work. AR 523. Dr. Alto
also conducted a physical examination ...