United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
MICHELLE L. PETERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks review of the denial of his applications for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff contends the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred in weighing the medical evidence
opinion, formulating Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), and relying on vocational
expert (“VE”) testimony. (Dkt. # 16 at 1.) As
discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
was born in 1960, has the equivalent of a high school
education, and has worked as a transmission rebuilder. AR at
449, 537, 550, 561. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in
2010. Id. at 537.
previously applied for disability benefits in 2011, alleging
an onset date of October 28, 2011. AR at 275-92. On April 18,
2013, an ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and Plaintiff's
request for review by the Appeals Council was denied.
Id. Plaintiff submitted the instant applications for
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of
April 19, 2013. Id. at 436, 449-50, 457-77.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing.
Id. at 376-77, 379-80. After the ALJ conducted a
hearing on November 30, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 66-82.
Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process,
Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date.
Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
coronary artery disease, left ventricular thrombosis,
degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, and substance
abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Since April 19, 2013, Plaintiff
can perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) with limitations. He can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds;
unlimitedly balance, stoop, and kneel; frequently crouch;
occasionally crawl; he would need to avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold; is able to work in two hour
intervals; is able to complete given tasks by the end of a
normal workday; however, requires work that allows for a
variable pace; and is able to work in a low stress
environment defined as occasional changes in workplace
Step four: Since April 19, 2013, Plaintiff has been unable to
perform past relevant work.
Step five: Prior to February 23, 2015, the date
Plaintiff's age category changed, there were jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could have performed. Plaintiff therefore was not
disabled before February 23, 2015. Beginning February 23,
2015, Plaintiff was disabled by direct application of
Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06.
Id. at 66-82.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision. AR at 14-17. Plaintiff appealed the final decision
of the Commissioner to this Court. (Dkt. # 16.)
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the
Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when
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 (9th Cir.
2005). As a general principle, an ALJ's error may be
deemed harmless where it is “inconsequential to the
ultimate nondisability determination.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (cited
sources omitted). The Court looks to “the record as a
whole to determine whether the error alters the outcome of
the case.” Id.
evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a
preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir.
1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility,
resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any
other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the
Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may
neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is
the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld.
The ALJ Did Not Err in Evaluating the Medical Opinion
matter of law, more weight is given to a treating
physician's opinion than to that of a non-treating
physician because a treating physician “is employed to
cure and has a greater opportunity to know and observe the
patient as an individual.” Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989); see also
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir.
2007). A treating physician's opinion, however,
is not necessarily conclusive as to either a physical
condition or the ultimate issue of disability, and can be
rejected, whether or not that opinion is contradicted.
Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 751. If an ALJ rejects the
opinion of a treating or examining physician, the ALJ must
give clear and convincing reasons for doing so if the opinion
is not contradicted by other evidence, and specific and
legitimate reasons if it is. Reddick v. Chater, 157
F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1988). “This can be done by
setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and
conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings.” Id. (citing
Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 751). The ALJ must do more
than merely state his/her conclusions. “He must set
forth his own interpretations and explain why they, rather
than the doctors', are correct.” Id.
(citing Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 421-22 (9th
Cir. 1988)). Such conclusions must at all times be supported
by substantial evidence. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725.
from non-examining medical sources are to be given less
weight than treating or examining doctors. Lester,
81 F.3d at 831. However, an ALJ must always evaluate the
opinions from such sources and may not simply ignore them. In
other words, an ALJ must evaluate the opinion of a
non-examining source and explain the weight given to it.
Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-6p, 1996 WL
374180, at *2. Although an ALJ generally gives more weight to
an examining doctor's opinion than to a non-examining
doctor's opinion, a non-examining doctor's opinion
may nonetheless constitute substantial evidence if it is
consistent with other independent evidence in the record.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir.
2002); Orn, 495 F.3d at 632-33.
The ALJ's ...