United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY
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”) did not err in
assessing Plaintiff's testimony or the opinion of
examining physician Dr. Wu. Accordingly, the ALJ's
finding of non-disability is supported by substantial
evidence, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
October 23, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset
date of October 20, 2014. AR 60, 340-41, 342-43. Her
application was denied upon initial administrative review and
on reconsideration. AR 60. An initial hearing was held before
ALJ Ilene Sloan on September 27, 2017. AR 99-132. ALJ Sloan
held a supplemental hearing on March 14, 2018, at which a
vocational expert and medical experts W. Benton Boone, M.D.,
and Allan Duby, M.D. also testified. AR 133-67. In a decision
dated May 31, 2018, ALJ Sloan found that Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 57-75. The Social Security Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 29, 2019.
AR 1-7. The ALJ's decision of May 31, 2018 is the final
decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ
erred by: (1) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons
for discounting Plaintiff's testimony; and (2) failing to
properly assess opinion evidence from examining physician
Lisa Wu, M.D. Dkt. 10, pp. 2-13.
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 Plaintiff's
maintains that the ALJ erred in evaluating her testimony
concerning the impact of her eye impairment and degenerative
disc disease, as well as the significance of her ability to
perform certain activities of daily living. Dkt. 10, pp.
weighing a Plaintiff's testimony, an ALJ must use a
two-step process. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d
664, 678 (9th Cir. 2017). First, the ALJ must determine
whether there is objective medical evidence of an underlying
impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce some
degree of the alleged symptoms. Ghanim v. Colvin,
763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir. 2014). If the first
step is satisfied, and provided there is no evidence of
malingering, the second step allows the ALJ to reject the
claimant's testimony of the severity of symptoms if the
ALJ can provide specific findings and clear and convincing
reasons for rejecting the claimant's testimony.
Light Sensitivity and Eye Fatigue.
contends that the ALJ erred by not explaining why she was
rejecting Plaintiff's allegations concerning light
sensitivity and eye fatigue. Dkt. 10, pp. 6-8. Plaintiff
testified as to her light sensitivity, and stated that she
has to take frequent breaks from her coursework due to eye
fatigue and her other impairments. AR 108-11.
evaluating Plaintiff's eye impairment, the ALJ provided a
detailed discussion of Plaintiff's allegations concerning
light sensitivity and eye fatigue, as well as her treatment
history from 2015 through 2017. AR 66-69. The ALJ, citing the
record and testimony from medical expert Dr. Boone, a
board-certified ophthalmologist, noted that Plaintiff's
visual acuity ranged from about 20/70 in one eye at worst and
20/25 in one eye at best. AR 68, 138-41, 1072-76.
noted that there was no evidence that Plaintiff had
difficulty moving about the office due to her vision
problems, was able to drive when necessary, and had glasses
and a digital hand scanner that helped manage her symptoms.
AR 68-69; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3)(iv)
(the effectiveness of medication and treatment are relevant
to the evaluation of a claimant's alleged symptoms);
see also Wellington v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 867, 876
(9th Cir. 2017); Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Parra v. Astrue,
481 F.3d 742, 750-51 (9th Cir.2007) (stating that
“evidence of ‘conservative treatment' is
sufficient to discount a claimant's testimony regarding
severity of an impairment”).
assigned “great weight” to Dr. Boone's
opinion, and incorporated all the medically determinable
visual impairments cited by Dr. Boone as severe impairments
at step two of the sequential evaluation. AR 62-63, 71-72,
139-40. The ALJ also incorporated all the visual limitations
assessed by Dr. Boone into Plaintiffs residual functional
capacity. AR 65, 141-42.
reasoned that Dr. Boone was a board-certified ophthalmologist
who reviewed the entire medical record, explained his
conclusions in detail during the hearing, and offered an
opinion that was consistent with the medical record. AR 72,
138-41; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3)
(“The better an explanation a source provides for a
medical opinion, the more weight we will give that medical
opinion.”); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(5) (“We generally give more weight to the
medical opinion of a specialist about medical issues related
to his or her area of specialty than to the medical opinion
of a source who is not a specialist); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(6) (“the extent to which ...