United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on the report and
recommendation of the Honorable J. Richard Creatura, United
States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 29). Having considered the
report and recommendation, Plaintiff's objections (Dkt.
No. 30), and the relevant record, the Court ADOPTS the report
and recommendation, OVERRULES Plaintiff's objections, and
AFFIRMS the administrative law judge's decision to deny
Plaintiff social security disability benefits.
is a 29-year-old woman with a documented history of mental
health issues and chronic pain. (See, e.g., Dkt. No.
12 at 401, 458, 463, 554.) She filed an application for
supplemental social security income, alleging that she was
disabled due to a combination of bipolar affective disorder,
depression, and fibromyalgia. (Id. at 103.) The
Social Security Administration denied that application on
July 22, 2014, (id. at 149-52), and rejected
Plaintiff's request for reconsideration on May 26, 2015,
(id. at 166-68). Following those rejections,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Id. at
172-74.) The ALJ held the hearing on April 6, 2017,
(id. at 38-92), and subsequently issued an
unfavorable decision, (id. at 17-37). Although the
ALJ recognized that Plaintiff's impairments were
“severe, ” (see Id. at 22), the ALJ
found they were not so severe as to make Plaintiff disabled,
(see Id. at 17-24). The Appeals Council declined to
review the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 6.)
Plaintiff's request for review was denied, she filed a
complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the
ALJ's decision. (Dkt. No. 6.) Judge Creatura has reviewed
the complaint and recommends that the Court affirm the
ALJ's decision. (See generally Dkt. No. 29.)
raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ improperly
weighed the medical evidence using the incorrect standard;
(2) whether the ALJ improperly discounted Plaintiff's
testimony about the severity of her symptoms; (3) whether the
ALJ erroneously discounted the testimony of Plaintiff's
mother and boyfriend; (4) whether the ALJ erred in concluding
that Plaintiff could perform work existing in the national
economy; (5) whether the ALJ improperly “parsed”
the evidence; and (6) whether Plaintiff qualifies for Title
II benefits. (See Dkt. No. 21 at 1.) The Court finds
that the first five issues are without merit and that the
sixth issue is moot.
Standard of Review
may reverse an ALJ's denial of benefits “only if it
is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial
evidence.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211,
1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence is more
than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.”
Twidell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999).
If the evidence “is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's
decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.”
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
raises two objections to how the ALJ evaluated the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating medical provider, Karen Fuller.
First, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erroneously failed to
assign Fuller's opinion controlling weight because the
ALJ applied the wrong standard for evaluating medical
evidence. (See Dkt. No. 21 at 7.) Second, Plaintiff
appears to argue that even if the ALJ applied the correct
standard, the ALJ should have given Fuller's opinion
controlling weight because of the length of Fuller's
clinical relationship with Plaintiff. (See Dkt. No.
30 at 2, 7.) After reviewing Plaintiff's objections,
Judge Creatura concluded that the ALJ properly evaluated
Fuller's opinion as lay testimony. (See Dkt. No.
29 at 4-7.)
claims filed before March 27, 2017, 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527 and 416.927 govern how an ALJ must weigh medical
evidence. Those regulations afford “treating
sources” controlling weight in certain circumstances.
See Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1157 (9th
Cir. 2001) (citing SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 (July 2, 1996)).
And even when treating sources are not given controlling
weight, “treating source medical opinions are still
entitled to deference.” Id. (quoting SSR
96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 at *4). But not all opinions are
considered “treating source medical opinions”:
“only ‘acceptable medical sources' can
[provide] medical opinions [and] only ‘acceptable
medical sources' can be considered treating
sources.'” SSR 06-3p, 2006 WL 2329939 at *2 (Aug.
9, 2006). “Acceptable medical sources” are
limited to (1) licensed physicians, (2) licensed or certified
psychologists, (3) licensed optometrists, (4) licensed
podiatrists, and (5) qualified speech-language pathologists.
See SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939 at *1.
Fuller is not an “acceptable medical source”
because she does not fall under one of the five categories
listed in Social Security Ruling 06-03p. While Plaintiff may
be correct that “Fuller is no unaccredited slouch,
” (Dkt. No. 30 at 7), she is not a licensed physician
or a licensed psychologist; she is a mental health counselor.
(See Dkt. No. 3 at 6-7); Wash. Admin. Code §
246-809-220(1). Consequently, Plaintiff is simply incorrect
when she states, “by the time of [the] hearing Karen
Fuller's status had elevated to an acceptable
source.” (See Dkt. No. 3 at 4.)
Fuller is not an “acceptable medical source, ”
her opinion is considered lay testimony. See Turner v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 613 F.3d 1216, 1224 (9th Cir.
2010). Lay testimony is generally entitled to less weight
than treating source medical opinions. See SSP
06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939 at *5. In addition, an ALJ may
disregard a lay witness's testimony “if the ALJ
‘gives reasons germane to each witness for doing
so.'” Turner, 613 F.3d at 1224 (quoting
Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 511 (9th Cir. 2001)).
However, the weight to be given to lay testimony
“depend[s] on the particular facts of the case, ”
and “an opinion from a medical source who is not an