United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
LIBBY L. A., 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
application for 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. 2.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when he
improperly gave partial weight to the opinions of Doctor Jim
Rice, Doctor Gary Schuster, and Ms. Christina Casady. Had the
ALJ properly considered these opinions, Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) may have
included additional limitations. The ALJ's error is
therefore harmful, 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
March 31, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB,
alleging disability as of January 20, 2012. See Dkt.
8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 49. The
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. See AR 49. A hearing was held
before ALJ Allen G. Erickson on August 17, 2017. See
AR 49. In a decision dated December 29, 2017, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 58.
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 49; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1)
improperly evaluating the medical evidence; and (2) failing
to support his formation of the RFC and his evaluation of the
Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony with
substantial evidence. Dkt. 12, p. 2. Plaintiff requests
remand for an award of benefits. Id. at 10.
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
Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion
contends the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the opinion
evidence submitted by Dr. Rice, Dr. Schuster, and Ms. Casady.
Dkt. 12, pp. 7-9.
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 Cir.
Rice completed Washington State Department of Labor and
Industries Insurer Activity Prescription Forms on May 20,
2014, June 30, 2014, August 4, 2014, and September 18, 2014.
AR 625, 633, 638, 645. Dr. Rice opined Plaintiff may perform
modified duty, in that Plaintiff can never crawl, reach
overhead, or engage in fingering or handling activities. AR
625, 633, 638, 645. Dr. Rice further opined Plaintiff can
occasionally climb ladders and stairs, bend, and stoop. AR
633, 638, ...