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. 3.
considering the record, the Court concludes the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not err in
assessing the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Weiss.
Accordingly, the ALJ's finding of non-disability is
supported by substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's
decision is affirmed.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
August 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June
22, 2009. AR 15, 140-44. Her application was denied upon
initial administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 15,
75-77, 79-83, 84-88. A hearing was held before ALJ Jo
Hoenninger on January 24, 2018. AR 30-39. Plaintiff did not
appear, saying that she underwent a liver biopsy the day
before the hearing. AR 15, 33. Plaintiff did not respond to a
Notice to Show Cause letter, and the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had constructively waived her right to appear at the hearing.
decision dated May 2, 2018, ALJ Hoenninger found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 12-26. The Social Security
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
March 7, 2019. AR 1-6. The ALJ's decision of May 2, 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 failing to properly assess opinion evidence from
examining psychologist William Weiss, Ph.D. Dkt. 8, pp. 3-9.
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 Dr. Weiss'
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)).
Weiss conducted a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on
December 30, 2013. AR 232-37. Dr. Weiss' evaluation
consisted of a clinical interview, a mental status
examination, and psychological testing. Id. Based on
this evaluation, Dr. Weiss diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar
disorder. AR 236. Dr. Weiss stated that Plaintiff had
problems with reasoning, poor judgment when she was in a
manic state, and required further understanding of methods
she could use to control her symptoms. AR 237. Dr. Weiss
opined that Plaintiff's ability to adapt and sustain
concentration and persistence were “severely”
impaired by her bipolar disorder. Id. Dr. Weiss
further opined that Plaintiff's ability to engage in
social interaction was “markedly” limited.
Id. Dr. Weiss stated that Plaintiff would not be
able to maintain gainful employment due to the long-term
nature of her bipolar disorder, and that it was
“unlikely” that Plaintiff would be able to work
in the future. Id.
assigned “little weight” to Dr. Weiss'
opinion, reasoning that: (1) Dr. Weiss relied heavily on
Plaintiff's unreliable subjective allegations; (2) Dr.
Weiss conducted little in the way of objective testing; (3)
Plaintiff's statements to Dr. Weiss were inconsistent
with the record, which indicates that Plaintiff did not
complain of similar symptoms to her treating psychiatrist;
and (4) Dr. Weiss incorrectly relied on Plaintiff's
statement that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder
even though Plaintiff's treatment provider appears to
have explicitly ruled out bipolar disorder as a diagnosis. AR
respect to the ALJ's first two reasons, an ALJ may reject
a physician's opinion “if it is based ‘to a
large extent' on a claimant's self-reports that have
been properly discounted as incredible.” Tommasetti
v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Morgan v. Comm'r. Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d
595, 602 (9th Cir. 1999)). This situation is distinguishable
from one in which the doctor provides her own observations in
support of her assessments and opinions. See Ryan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 528 F.3d 1194, 1199-1200
(9th Cir. 2008). “[W]hen an opinion is not more heavily
based on a patient's self-reports than on ...