Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Micheal G. C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 19, 2019

MICHAEL G. C. Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          Theresa L. Fricke, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his applications (filed on June 21, 2013) for disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses defendant's decision to deny benefits and remands this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         I. ISSUES FOR REVEW

         1. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence;

         2. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's testimony;

         3. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating the lay evidence; and

         4. Whether the ALJ erred in assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) and erred by basing his step five finding on his erroneous RFC assessment.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error, or (2) the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This requires “more than a mere scintilla, ” of evidence. Id.

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). It must weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court considers in its review only the reasons the ALJ identified and may not affirm for a different reason. Id. at 1010. Furthermore, “[l]ong-standing principles of administrative law require us to review the ALJ's decision based on the reasoning and actual findings offered by the ALJ-not post hoc rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator may have been thinking.” Bray v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1225-26 (9th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         A. The ALJ's Evaluation of Medical Opinions

         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence in the administrative record. Dkt. 12 at 3- 8. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinions of Terilee Wingate Ph.D., Brett Trowbridge, Ph.D., Johann Gurnell, ARNP, Brent Packer, M.D., Jennifer Koch, Psy.D., Kristine Harrison. Psy.D., Gary Gaffield, D.O., John Kwock M.D., and David Jarmon M.D. Id. For the reasons set forth below the ALJ erred in ignoring the opinions of Dr. Wingate and Dr. Trowbridge. The ALJ also erred in evaluating Dr. Koch's medical opinion.

         The ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or examining physician. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008)). When a treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted, an ALJ must provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting it. Id. In either case, substantial evidence must support the ALJ's findings. Id.

         a. Dr. Wingate and Dr. Trowbridge

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed error by not evaluating the opinions of Dr. Wingate and Dr. Trowbridge. Dkt. 12 at 3-4. Defendant argues that the ALJ did not make an error because SSI benefits are not payable prior to the application date and per Social Security regulations, the ALJ was not required to review evidence outside of the 12-month period preceding the relevant period - June 21, 2013, the application date. Dkt. 13 at 14-16. Defendant further argues that an ALJ may reasonably reject medical opinions because they predate the relevant time period being considered. Id. at 14-15.

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. 416.912(b)(1), before making a determination regarding disability, the Social Security Administration, “will develop [the claimant's] complete medical history for at least the 12 months preceding the month in which [claimant] filed [the] application unless there is a reason to believe that development of an earlier period is necessary.” Further, a complete medical history is considered the “medical source(s) covering at least the 12 months preceding the month in which [claimant] filed their application.” 20 C.F.R. 416.912(b)(1).

         Although the Social Security Administration is only required to include medical sources for the 12 months preceding the application date in the record, the ALJ is required to evaluate all medical opinions actually included in the record. 20 C.F.R. 404.1527 (b)-(c). Although the ALJ is not bound by every medical opinion in the record, the ALJ must consider all medical opinion evidence. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008). An ALJ may find medical opinions less persuasive because they predate the relevant period. Carmickle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1165 (9th Cir. 2008). However, the Court may only review the ALJ's decision based on the reasoning actually offered by the ALJ, not post-hoc rationalizations. Bray v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1225-26 (9th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). Accordingly, the ALJ erred in ignoring the opinions of Dr. Wingate and Dr. Trowbridge.

         b. Ms. Gurnell and Dr. Packer

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical opinions of Ms. Gurnell and Dr. Packer. Dkt. 12 at 4-5. The ALJ gave both opinions little weight because they “were rendered prior to the relevant period of adjudication and therefore do not reflect the claimant's relevant functional status” and because they were inconsistent with more recent medical examination opinions. AR 33. Plaintiff argues that the fact that the opinions were rendered before the current application period cannot justify the weight given and that the opinions were not inconsistent with Dr. Gaffield's findings. Dkt. 12 at 5.

         An ALJ may discredit medical opinions predating the relevant period because they are of limited relevance. Carmickle, 533 F.3d at 1165. Here, the ALJ expressly found that the opinions of Ms. Gurnell and Dr. Packer were of little relevance because they predated the relevant period being considered. Additionally, weighing different medical opinions to determine inconsistencies and the relevance of any inconsistencies is within the responsibility of the ALJ. Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 603 (9th Cir. 1999). Finally, plaintiff provides no explanation of how the ALJ erred in weighing any inconsistencies in the medical record other than the bald assertion that the opinions were not “meaningfully inconsistent.” Dkt. 12. For the foregoing reasons the Court will not disturb the ALJ's evaluation of Ms. Gurnell and Dr. Packer's opinions.

         c. Dr. Koch

         Plaintiff also challenges the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Koch's opinion. Dkt. 12 at 5. The ALJ gave Dr. Koch's opinion little weight because,

[w]hile the opinions acknowledge the presence of a medically determinable depressive disorder, the functional analysis is internally inconsistent as the claimant is speculated to have the ability to complete simple, even detailed instructions without supervision but is also speculated to have a marked impairment in his ability to complete a normal workday due to psychological symptoms.

AR 31. The ALJ went on to explain that the opinion that plaintiff could complete simple work tasks on a regular basis without supervision was supported by the claimant's noted progress through treatment as well as other medical examinations in the record. Id. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not have a basis to refer to Dr. Koch's opinion as “speculation” and that the ALJ was incorrect in determining that the opinion was internally inconsistent. Dkt. 12 at 6.

         First, plaintiff does not point to anything in the ALJ's decision to indicate that he dismissed Dr. Koch's opinion as speculation. In his evaluation of Dr. Koch's opinion, the ALJ used a number of words to describe Dr. Koch expressing her medical opinion, including “opined, ” “According to Dr. Koch, ” “estimated, ” “assessed, ” and “acknowledge.” AR 31. The ALJ's use of the word “speculate” to describe Dr. Koch's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.