United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
COURTNEY R. M., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DEFENDANT'S
DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS
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
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.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she
improperly discounted the opinions of Drs. Sylvia Thorpe and
Carl Epp. 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and
SSI, alleging disability as of December 15, 2011.
See Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”)
15. The application was denied upon initial administrative
review and on reconsideration. See AR 15. A video
hearing was held before ALJ Laura Valente on March 20, 2018.
See AR 15. In a decision dated May 10, 2018, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 28.
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 13; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.
Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1)
failing to properly evaluate the medical evidence; and (2)
improperly determining Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and failing to meet her burden
that Plaintiff is not disabled at Step Five. Dkt. 10.
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 evaluated the medical
contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinions of
Drs. Thorpe and Epp. Dkt. 10, pp. 5-7.
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 830-831 (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)).
Thorpe completed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on
two separate occasions, both at the request of Washington
State Department of Social and Health Services
(“DSHS”). AR 411-229. In May 2014, Dr. Thorpe
opined Plaintiff had no or mild limitations in understanding,
carrying out, recalling, and persisting in simple
instructions, and in maintaining appropriate behavior in a
work setting. AR 417. Dr. Thorpe also opined Plaintiff had
severe limitations in ...