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Jeremy A. N. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 9, 2019

JEREMY A. N., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's applications for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and 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.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence for discounting Dr. Peter Weiss's opinion. Had the ALJ properly weighed Dr. Weiss's opinion, 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.


         On June 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of December 28, 2014. See Dkt. 13, Administrative Record (“AR”) 22. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 22. A hearing was held before ALJ Rebecca L. Jones on August 27, 2017. See AR 22. In a decision dated January 8, 2018, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 38. 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 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In the Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly evaluate the medical evidence, specifically the opinions of Drs. Weiss, Greg Saue, Drew Stevick, Jamie McKenzie, and Amir Atabeygi; (2) failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; and (3) improperly determining Plaintiff's RFC. Dkt. 17, p. 2-17.


         Pursuant 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 Cir. 1999)).


         I. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinions of Drs. Weiss, Saue, Stevick, McKenzie, and Atabeygi. Dkt. 17, pp. 2-8.

         In assessing an acceptable medical source, an 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. 1995) (citing Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)); Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988). 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. 1989)).

         A. Dr. Weiss

         Dr. Weiss completed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on April 19, 2017, which he summarized on a Department of Social and Health Services form. AR 504. He diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and borderline intellectual functioning. AR 505. Dr. Weiss opined Plaintiff has marked limitations in understanding, remembering, and persisting in tasks following detailed instructions. AR 506. He also opined Plaintiff has severe limitations in performing activities within a schedule, maintaining regular attendance, being punctual within customary ...

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