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Maha I. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 18, 2019

MAHA I., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER AND DISMISSING THE CASE

          BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Maha I. seeks review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income. She contends the ALJ misevaluated the medical opinion evidence, erroneously failed to find her impairments met or equaled a listing, and erred in evaluating her residual functional capacity. Dkt. 10. The Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is currently 49 years old, has one year of college education, and has no past relevant work. Tr. 44, 56, 174. She applied for benefits in July 2015, alleging disability as of her application date. Tr. 174. After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, the ALJ conducted a hearing and, on February 27, 2018, issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 15-29. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date; she had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, asthma, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of bilateral knees, hip joint labral tear, obesity, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and these impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[2] The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work with additional physical and mental limitations. Tr. 20-21. The ALJ found that plaintiff has no past relevant work, but there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. Tr. 28. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 28-29.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Medical opinions

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of treating doctor Shawn Meyers, M.D., examining doctor Kathleen Andersen, M.D., and treating psychiatric provider Lakew Adnew, DNP-c, PMHNP-BC. Dkt. 10 at 3. In general, the ALJ must give specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting a treating or examining doctor's opinion that is contradicted by another doctor, and clear and convincing reasons for rejecting a treating or examining doctor's uncontradicted opinion. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1996).

         1. Dr. Meyers

         Dr. Meyers completed a documentation request for medical disability form in February 2017. He identified plaintiff's diagnoses as labral tear of the hip, low back pain, and depression and indicated that these were supported by testing, lab reports, or other means. Tr. 403. He opined that plaintiff had pain with standing, walking, laying on her side, lifting, and with sitting longer than 5 minutes, and she was unable to participate in work activity. Id. He opined that plaintiff was unable to lift at least 2 pounds or unable to stand or walk, and her condition was permanent. Tr. 404. He recommended continued physical therapy for her hip and back pain and a referral back to a surgeon for further evaluation. Tr. 404-05.

         The ALJ found that Dr. Meyers indicated that he based his assessment on plaintiff's pain complaints for which he recommended physical therapy. Tr. 25. The ALJ noted that on the date he gave this opinion, Dr. Meyers stated in treatment records that he had completed “disability paperwork for period of 1 year” and provided a disabled parking pass. Tr. 377. The ALJ gave Dr. Meyers's opinion little weight, finding that the opinion contained little more than a list of plaintiff's diagnosed conditions and reported symptoms. Tr. 25. The ALJ found that the opinion lacked sufficient supporting evidence of clinical findings to support the extreme degree of severity alleged, and that it was not consistent with treatment records indicating “grossly normal” objective exams and limited, conservative treatment, including recommendations for physical therapy. Id.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding that Dr. Meyers based his opinion on plaintiff's pain complaints and asserts that he based his opinion on plaintiff's physical and mental conditions which had been established through objective testing. Dkt. 10 at 4. Dr. Meyers checked a box to indicate that plaintiff's diagnoses were supported by “testing, lab reports, etc.” Tr. 403. But he did not identify what those tests or other objective findings were or connect them to the functional limitations he opined. Rather, he identified plaintiff's limitations as “pain with” performing various activities. Id. The ALJ's finding that Dr. Meyers based his opinion on plaintiff's pain complaints rather than objective testing was a rational interpretation of the evidence that this court may not disturb. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding the opinion to be inconsistent with treatment notes, as the ALJ did not cite to specific treatment notes when evaluating this opinion and the notes the ALJ identified elsewhere in the opinion do not support this finding. Dkt. 10 at 4. Significantly, although plaintiff criticizes the notes the ALJ identified, she does not point to any treatment notes, from Dr. Meyers or any other provider, that are consistent with or support Dr. Meyers's opinion. Moreover, the ALJ found that Dr. Meyers's opinion was not supported by any clinical findings that showed the extreme degree of severity alleged, such as neurologic/motor strength, sensory, or gait deficits. Tr. 25. The lack of supporting evidence was a valid reason to ...


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