United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
GINA G. D., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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. 3.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to provide specific, legitimate reasons supported by
substantial evidence for giving little weight to the medical
opinion of Dr. Rex E. Head, MD. Had the ALJ properly
considered Dr. Head’s opinion, Plaintiff’s
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 Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
29, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and for SSI,
alleging disability as of May 20, 2015. See Dkt. 8,
Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. The application
was denied upon initial administrative review and on
reconsideration. See AR 15. A hearing was held
before ALJ S. Andrew Grace on June 5, 2017. AR 15. In a
decision dated November 13, 2017, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 26. 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; 20
C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing
to properly: (1) evaluate the medical opinion evidence; (2)
evaluate Plaintiff’s subjective symptom testimony; and
(3) assess Plaintiff’s RFC and Step 5 of the sequential
evaluation process. Dkt. 10, p. 1.
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)).
Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion
contends the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical
opinion of Dr. Head, all other medical opinion evidence, and
must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for
denying an uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or
examining physician. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Embrey v. Bowen, 849
F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988); Pitzer v. Sullivan,
908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)). When either a treating or
an examining physician’s opinion is contradicted, the
ALJ may deny the opinion “for specific and legitimate
reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the
record.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-831 (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 may do so 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)). A person is
considered disabled only if she is unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity for “a continuous period
of not less than 12-months” and can demonstrate such
inability. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
first asserts the ALJ improperly rejected Dr. Head’s
opinion, and points to two instances where she contends the
ALJ erred. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when he
rejected certain parts of Dr. Head’s opinions that were
“clear and specific” merely because other parts
of Dr. Head’s opinions were “not very
specific.” Dkt. 8, p. 24. Second, Plaintiff argues the
ALJ erred when he believed that Dr. Head’s opinion may
not be indicative of Plaintiff’s long-term limitations.
October 15, 2015, Dr. Head, an examining physician, conducted
a physical exam of Plaintiff. AR 386-393. He documented his
findings, including Plaintiff’s diagnoses. AR
386-393. According to Dr. Head, the physical
examination revealed that Plaintiff could lift/carry at one
time up to 20 pounds, and lift/carry repeatedly up to 15
pounds. AR 390. Dr. Head opined Plaintiff can sit at
one time for 2 hours, walk on flat level ground without a
break for 10 minutes, and walk for 1 hour in an 8-hour day.
AR 390. Dr. Head went on to note both
Plaintiff’s posture and her overhead and ...