United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER AND
A. TSUCHIDA Chief United States Magistrate Judge
appeals the ALJ's decision finding her not disabled. The
ALJ found disorder of the back, obesity, depression NOS,
anxiety NOS, and somatoform disorder are severe impairments;
plaintiff has the residual funcational capacity (RFC) to
perform light work subject to additional limitations;
plaintiff has no past relevant work but is not disabled
because she can perform jobs in the national economy. Tr.
15-29. Plaintiff contends the Court should remand the case
for further proceedings because the ALJ's misevaluation
of the opinions of treating and examining providers result in
an RFC determination that does not account for all of
plaintiff's limitations, and plaintiff is disabled
because her mental limitations meet or equal the criteria of
a listed impairment. Dkt. 13 at 1-2. For the reasons below,
the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's
final decision and REMANDS the matter for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Court will reverse the ALJ's decision if it is not
supported by substantial evidence in the record or if the ALJ
applied the wrong legal standard. Molina v. Astrue,
674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). The Court will not
reverse the ALJ's decision for errors that are harmless.
Id. at 1111. Where the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold
the Commissioner's interpretation. Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).
Medical and Other Source Opinions
contends the ALJ misevaluated the opinions of treating doctor
Diane Timberlake, M.D., treating therapist Maliha Mirza,
M.S.W., M.H.P., examining doctor Gerald Cavnee, examining
doctor Andrea Marshall, D.O., and reviewing doctor Greg Saue,
M.D. The ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons to
reject an uncontradicted medical opinion, or specific and
legitimate reasons where contradicted. Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1996). The ALJ
must do more than offer his conclusions; he must also explain
why his interpretation, rather than the doctor's
interpretation, is correct. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d
625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007). The opinion of a non-examining
doctor cannot by itself constitute substantial evidence that
justifies the rejection of the opinion of either an examining
physician or a treating physician. Gallant v.
Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1456 (9th Cir. 1984).
health professionals or licensed social workers are not
acceptable medical sources who can give medical opinions for
claims filed before March 27, 2017. The claim herein was
filed in 2015 and the ALJ therefore evaluates opinions of
other medical sources using the same factors used to evaluate
medical opinions of acceptable medical sources, 20 C.F.R.
§ 419.927(f), and must give specific, germane reasons
for rejecting opinions from other sources. Dodrill v.
Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 919 (9th Cir. 1993).
contends the ALJ erred in discounting limitations Dr.
Timberlake noted in a physical functional evaluation dated
Janaury 27, 2016. Dkt. 13 at 4. Dr. Timberlake diagnosed
plaintiff with “backpain” and opined it limited
plaintiff to performing sedentary work due to moderate
limiations in her ability to lift, carry, push, pull and
reach. Tr. 420-21. The ALJ rejected Dr. Timerlake's
opinion backpain limited plaintiff to sedentary work on the
grounds backpain, alone, is not a medically determinable
impairment. Tr. 25-26. The ALJ erred because the ALJ at step
two found disorder of the back is a severe impairment; the
record contained “various descriptions of the cause of
plaintiff's backpain”; and the ALJ's stated he
would address all the limitations alleged or opined, Tr. 18,
and the ALJ found plaintiff's medically determinable
conditions could cause the limitations plaintff's alleged
including problems with reaching due to pain. Tr. 22-23.
Moreover, Dr. Timberlake's more detailed treatment notes
also dated January 27, 2016 set forth a medically
determinable condition in diagnosing plaintiff as suffering
from “Mastodynia with chronic neck and upper back
pain.” Tr. 525. The ALJ did not discuss this diagnosis
or why it could not cause the limitations Dr. Timberlake
assessed and accordingly erred.
also rejected Dr. Timberlake's opinion as inconsistent
with her treating note stating: plaintiff's “main
issues and the diagnosis for which she may be considered
unable to work are her psychiatric symptoms. She has
depression and somatization disorder.” Tr. 524.
Plaintiff claims the ALJ improperly
“cherry-picked” evidence and Dr. Timberlake's
statement is merely indicative of the complex nature between
plaintiff's mental and physical conditions. Dkt. 13 at 7.
The record does not support plaintiff's argument. The
statement Dr. Timberlake made that plaintiff's main
issues are psychiatric was made on the same day the doctor
completed the functional assessment. The statement is thus
directly related to the functional assessment and not a
disconnected observation the ALK impermissibly cherry-picked.
Dr. Timberlake's treatment notes do not support
plaintiff's claim the doctor found plaintiff's mental
and physical problems are interrelated. Dr. Timberlake's
treatment notes first describe plaintiff's back pain and
other physical complaints. Tr. 523-24. Dr. Timberlake then
separately discusses plaintiff's mental health problems
and opines the main issue and diagnosis regarding why
plaintiff may be disabled are her “psychiatric
symptoms.” Id. at 524. The ALJ accordingly
reasonably found the opinion Dr. Timberlake gave in the
January 16, 2016, functional assessment is inconsistent with
the opinion the doctor gave in her January 16, 2016,
treatment notes. Because the ALJ gave at least one valid
reason supported by substantial evidence to reject the
opinion Dr. Timberlake provided in the functional report that
plaintiff cannot work due to backpain the Court affirms the
2015, Ms. Mirza completed a DSHS “Documentation Request
for Medical or Disability Condtion” form. Tr. 422. Ms.
Mirza indicated “Fariba states that she is not able to
carry heavy things or stand for longer perod of time due to
body/back pain and dissiness, ” and that “Fariba
has a difficulty concentrating long periods of time and
finding motivation to engage and advocate for herself due to
depression.” Tr. 422. Ms. Mirza opined plaintiff was
limited to “0” hours of work per week due to her
physical limiations and 1-10 hours a week due to her mental
health problems. Id.
rejected Ms. Mirza's opinion plaintiff's physical
problems precluded work because the opinion relied solely
upon plaintiff's statements. Tr. 27. Plaintiff does not
contest this finding and acknowledges “Ms. Mirza did
make clear that with regard to the Plaintiff's physical
conditions she was relying on the ...