United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
LINDA S. W., 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 her application
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.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
failed to properly consider a portion of Dr. Alysa
Ruddell's opinion. Had the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Ruddell's entire opinion, Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) may have included
additional limitations. The ALJ's errors are, 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 Social Security (“Commissioner”)
for further proceedings consistent with this Order.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
April 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and
childhood disability benefits, alleging disability as of
January 1, 2010. See Dkt. 6, Administrative Record
(“AR”) 20. The applications were denied on
initial administrative review and reconsideration.
See AR 20. A hearing was held before ALJ Joanne E.
Dantonio on March 8, 2017. See AR 46-60. At the
hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to June 28,
2012. AR 50. A second hearing was held before the ALJ on
August 16, 2017. See AR 61-100. During the second
hearing, Plaintiff withdrew her application for childhood
disability benefits and continued on only the SSI
application, with an alleged onset date of April 17, 2015,
the date the application was filed. AR 64-65. In a decision
dated December 19, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 20-39. 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 837-41; 20 C.F.R. §
404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ committed harmful
error when she failed to properly consider the medical
opinion of Dr. Alysa Ruddell, Ph.D. Dkt. 8, 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
contends the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Dr. Alysa
Ruddell, Ph.D.'s medical opinion. Dkt. 8, pp. 2-4. 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. 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 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)). The ALJ can accomplish this 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
ALJ errs when he rejects a medical opinion or assigns it
little weight while doing nothing more than ignoring it,
asserting without explanation that another medical opinion is
more persuasive, or criticizing it with boilerplate language
that fails to offer a substantive basis for his
conclusion.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995,
1012-13 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Nguyen v.
Chater, 100 F.3d 1462, 1464 (9th Cir.1996)). As the
Ninth Circuit has stated:
To say that medical opinions are not supported by sufficient
objective findings or are contrary to the preponderant
conclusions mandated by the objective findings does not
achieve the level of specificity our prior cases have
required, even when the objective factors are listed
seriatim. The ALJ must do more than offer his conclusions. He
must set forth his own interpretations and explain why they,
rather than the doctors', are correct.
Embrey, 849 F.2d at 421-22 (internal footnote
August 29, 2016, Dr. Ruddell, an examining psychologist,
completed a Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation of
Plaintiff. AR 634-38. Dr. Ruddell conducted a clinical
interview and a mental status examination (“MSE”)
of Plaintiff. AR 634-38. She documented her clinical findings
and completed a ...