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Zhabraisha A. S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 9, 2019

ZHABRAISHA A. S., 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 applications for supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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. 4.

         After 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 Dr. Curtis Greenfield's medical opinion. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr. Greenfield's opinion, 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 Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of August 1, 2013. See Dkt. 6, Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 15. A hearing was held before ALJ Lawrence Lee on April 11, 2018. AR 15. In a decision dated June 28, 2018, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. AR 23-24. 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 15; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider the medical opinion of Dr. Greenfield. Dkt. 8, p. 1.

         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 considered the medical evidence.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ improperly evaluated Dr. Greenfield's opinion. Dkt. 8, p. 1.

         The ALJ 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)).

         On October 11, 2016, Dr. Greenfield completed a Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation of Plaintiff, which included a clinical interview and a mental status exam (“MSE”). AR 462-466. He diagnosed Plaintiff with Stimulant Use Disorder, Cannabis Use Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), Bipolar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. AR 464. Dr. Greenfield opined Plaintiff was markedly impaired in her ability to perform the following basic work activities: perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances without special supervision; adapt to changes in a routine work setting; be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions; ask simple questions or request assistance; ...


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