Rutz v. Commissioner of Social Security

Filing 20

ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF 15 ) AND REMANDING FOR ADDITIONAL PROCEEDINGS and denying Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 19 ). FILE CLOSED. Signed by Magistrate Judge John T. Rodgers. (PH, Case Administrator)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON 7 8 9 JOHN RUTZ, No. 1:16-CV-3207-JTR Plaintiff, ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REMANDING FOR ADDITIONAL PROCEEDINGS 10 11 12 13 14 v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. 15 16 BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 17 No. 15, 19. Attorney D. James Tree represents John Rutz (Plaintiff); Special 18 Assistant United States Attorney Nancy A. Mishalanie represents the 19 Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to 20 proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. After reviewing the administrative 21 record and the briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS, in part, Plaintiff’s 22 Motion for Summary Judgment; DENIES Defendant’s Motion for Summary 23 Judgment; and REMANDS the matter to the Commissioner for additional 24 proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 25 26 JURISDICTION Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and 27 Supplemental Security Income on May 17, 2013, alleging disability since 28 September 30, 2011, due to Myopathy, Hypotonia, Depression, ADHD, and Bi- ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 1 1 Polar Disorder. Tr. 178, 184, 236. Plaintiff amended his alleged disability onset 2 date to April 9, 2013, at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 39. The 3 applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Administrative Law 4 Judge (ALJ) M. J. Adams held a hearing on May 5, 2015, Tr. 36-60, and issued an 5 unfavorable decision on June 9, 2015, Tr. 18-28. The Appeals Council denied 6 Plaintiff’s request for review on September 12, 2016. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ’s June 7 2015 decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is 8 appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this 9 action for judicial review on November 14, 2016. ECF No. 1, 4. 10 11 STATEMENT OF FACTS Plaintiff was born on February 24, 1980, and was 33 years old on the alleged 12 onset date, April 9, 2013. Tr. 39. Plaintiff completed high school and one year of 13 college. Tr. 237. He returned to college in September 2013 and, at the time of the 14 administrative hearing, was continuing to work on his associate’s degree in 15 business management with a focus on marketing. Tr. 41. He was taking a normal 16 load of college classes (15 credits), doing a majority of his coursework online 17 while spending six hours a week on campus, and was halfway through the process 18 of obtaining his degree. Tr. 41-42, 46-48. 19 Plaintiff’s past work consists of jobs as a security guard, a dispatcher and a 20 certified nurse’s assistant. Tr. 43-45, 55-56, 237. Plaintiff’s disability report 21 indicates he stopped working on November 15, 2011, because of his conditions. 22 Tr. 236. Plaintiff testified the main thing keeping him from being able to work is 23 his social anxiety. Tr. 47. He explained he lacks the ability to relate to and get 24 along with people. Id. Plaintiff additionally stated that panic attacks are an 25 everyday issue. Tr. 49. He indicated he experiences overwhelming panic attacks 26 three or four times a week. Id. With respect to physical issues, Plaintiff testified 27 he has low muscle tone and could only lift 20 pounds, has difficulty with fine 28 motor skills, and could stand no longer than 30 minutes at a time. Tr. 50. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 2 1 2 STANDARD OF REVIEW The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in 3 medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 4 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The ALJ’s determinations of law are reviewed de novo, with 5 deference to a reasonable interpretation of the applicable statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 6 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed 7 only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. 8 Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is 9 defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 10 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a 11 reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. 12 Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one 13 rational interpretation, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the 14 ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 15 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). If substantial evidence supports the 16 administrative findings, or if conflicting evidence supports a finding of either 17 disability or non-disability, the ALJ’s determination is conclusive. Sprague v. 18 Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-1230 (9th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, a decision 19 supported by substantial evidence will be set aside if the proper legal standards 20 were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. 21 Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). 22 23 SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process 24 for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 25 416.920(a); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987). In steps one through 26 four, the burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish a prima facie case of 27 entitlement to disability benefits. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-1099. This burden is 28 met once a claimant establishes that a physical or mental impairment prevents the ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 3 1 claimant from engaging in past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 2 416.920(a)(4). If a claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds 3 to step five, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that (1) the 4 claimant can make an adjustment to other work; and (2) specific jobs exist in the 5 national economy which claimant can perform. Batson v. Commissioner of Social 6 Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193-1194 (2004). If a claimant cannot make an 7 adjustment to other work in the national economy, a finding of “disabled” is made. 8 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). 9 10 11 12 ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION On June 9, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful 13 activity since April 9, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. Tr. 20. At step two, 14 the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: congenital 15 myopathy with bilateral foot deformities; obesity; affective disorders variously 16 diagnosed as bipolar disorders and depression; anxiety disorders variously 17 diagnosed as anxiety, social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and 18 personality traits. Tr. 20. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an 19 impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the 20 severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 20. 21 The ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and found 22 Plaintiff could perform light exertion level work, but with the following 23 limitations: he could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds 24 frequently; he could stand and/or walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an 25 eight-hour workday; he could occasionally push/pull with his bilateral lower 26 extremities, including in the operation of foot controls; he could frequently climb 27 ramps and stairs but not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he could frequently 28 balance; he could occasionally stoop, kneel and crouch; he had no manipulative, ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 4 1 visual or communicative limitations; he would need to avoid concentrated 2 exposure to hazardous machinery and working at unprotected heights; he could 3 perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions; he could do 4 work that needs little or no judgment and could perform simple duties that could be 5 learned on the job in a short period of less than 30 days; he could respond 6 appropriately to supervision, but could not be required to do work in close 7 coordination with coworkers where teamwork would be required; and he could 8 deal with occasional changes in the work environment that would require only 9 occasional exposure to or interaction with the general public. Tr. 22. 10 At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant 11 work as a dispatcher and nurse assistant. Tr. 26. At step five, the ALJ determined 12 that, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, and considering Plaintiff’s 13 age, education, work experience and RFC, Plaintiff was capable of making a 14 successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the 15 national economy, including the jobs of production assembler; packing line 16 worker; and cleaner, housekeeping. Tr. 27-28. The ALJ thus concluded Plaintiff 17 was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any 18 time from April 9, 2013, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ’s 19 decision, June 9, 2015. Tr. 27-28. 20 ISSUES The question presented is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s 21 22 decision denying benefits and, if so, whether that decision is based on proper legal 23 standards. 24 Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting the medical opinions of 25 Caryn Jackson, M.D., and Philip Barnard, Ph.D.; (2) failing to provide legally 26 sufficient reasons for discrediting Plaintiff’s symptom testimony; and (3) 27 improperly discounting the lay witness statements of Plaintiff’s mother, Rosie 28 Rutz. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 5 1 2 DISCUSSION A. Medical Opinion Evidence 3 Plaintiff first contends the ALJ erred by failing to provide legally sufficient 4 reasons for rejecting the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard. ECF No. 15 at 5- 5 12. Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred by instead according controlling weight to state 6 agency nonexamining medical professionals regarding Plaintiff’s limitations. Id. 7 In a disability proceeding, the courts distinguish among the opinions of three 8 types of physicians: treating physicians, physicians who examine but do not treat 9 the claimant (examining physicians) and those who neither examine nor treat the 10 claimant (nonexamining physicians). Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 11 1996). A treating physician’s opinion carries more weight than an examining 12 physician’s opinion, and an examining physician’s opinion is given more weight 13 than that of a nonexamining physician. Benecke v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 592 14 (9th Cir. 2004); Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. The Ninth Circuit has held that “[t]he 15 opinion of a nonexamining physician cannot by itself constitute substantial 16 evidence that justifies the rejection of the opinion of either an examining physician 17 or a treating physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830; Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 18 506 n.4 (9th Cir. 1990) (finding a nonexamining doctor’s opinion “with nothing 19 more” does not constitute substantial evidence). Rather, an ALJ’s decision to 20 reject the opinion of a treating or examining physician, may be based in part on 21 the testimony of a nonexamining medical advisor. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 22 747, 751-755 (9th Cir. 1989); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 23 1995). The ALJ must also have other evidence to support the decision such as 24 laboratory test results, contrary reports from examining physicians, and testimony 25 from the claimant that was inconsistent with the physician’s opinion. Magallanes, 26 881 F.2d at 751-752; Andrews, 53 F.3d 1042-1043. 27 28 The ALJ assigned “significant evidentiary weight” to the state agency assessments of Gordon Hale, M.D., Michael L. Brown, Ph.D., and John F. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 6 1 Robinson, Ph.D. Tr. 25. These nonexamining medical professionals found 2 Plaintiff was limited to light exertion level work with two to six hours of standing 3 and/or walking1 and six hours of sitting in an eight-hour workday, postural 4 limitations and limitations in both lower extremities due to Plaintiff’s myopathy 5 and repeated foot surgeries, and moderate limitations with Plaintiff’s ability to 6 interact with the general public and coworkers/peers, Tr. 69-72, 95-97. The ALJ 7 held that these functional assessments were largely consistent with Plaintiff’s 8 longitudinal treatment history, his performance on physical and mental status 9 examinations and his documented daily activities. Tr. 25. 10 The ALJ accorded “little weight” to the assessments of Drs. Jackson and 11 Barnard, finding they were inconsistent with Plaintiff’s longitudinal treatment 12 history, his performance on physical and mental status examinations and his 13 documented daily activities and social functioning. Tr. 25. 14 Dr. Jackson, Plaintiff’s treating physician from March 2013 to October 15 2014, Tr. 586, completed a physical functional evaluation form on June 7, 2013, 16 which opined that Plaintiff would be limited to sedentary exertion level work, Tr. 17 537. On July 1, 2013, a psychiatric evaluation was completed. Tr. 453-456. The 18 report indicated Plaintiff had recently been hospitalized for seven days after 19 attempting suicide three times in a three-week period. Tr. 453. Plaintiff was 20 placed on Depakote and reported he had “felt pretty good” since leaving the 21 22 1 On July 31, 2013, Dr. Robinson found Plaintiff was limited to “2 hours” of 23 standing and/or walking in an eight-hour workday, Tr. 69; however, on December 24 30, 2013, Dr. Hale opined Plaintiff would be limited to “about 6 hours” of standing 25 and/or walking in an eight-hour workday. Tr. 95. The ALJ does not mention the 26 difference between these credited opinions or specify why it was ultimately 27 determined, inconsistent with Dr. Robinson’s opinion, that Plaintiff had the RFC to 28 stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 7 1 hospital, but still struggled with focus and concentration. Tr. 453. Several months 2 later, on November 19, 2014, Dr. Jackson opined Plaintiff would miss four or more 3 days per month mainly due to his anxiety issues. Tr. 587. 4 Examiner Barnard completed a Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluation form 5 on May 2, 2013. Tr. 530-534. At the time of the evaluation, Plaintiff was taking 6 Depakote for his mental health symptoms. Tr. 530. Dr. Barnard opined that 7 Plaintiff’s depression and paranoid ideation would interfere with his ability to work 8 on a daily basis to a moderate extent. Tr. 531. Dr. Barnard determined Plaintiff 9 would have a marked limitation in his ability to communicate and perform 10 effectively in a work setting and severe limitations with his abilities to complete a 11 normal work day and work week without interruptions from psychologically based 12 symptoms and to maintain appropriate behavior in a work setting. Tr. 532. 13 In rejecting the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard, the ALJ first 14 determined that their assessments and low GAF scores were inconsistent with “the 15 longitudinal treatment history.” Tr. 26. The Court notes that an ALJ has no 16 obligation to credit or even consider GAF scores in the disability determination. 17 See 65 Fed. Reg. 50746, 50764 65 (Aug. 21, 2000) (“The GAF scale . . . does not 18 have a direct correlation to the severity requirements in our mental disorders 19 listings.”). In fact, the GAF scale is no longer included in the DSM-V. Diagnostic 20 And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 16 (5th ed. 2013).2 In any event, here, 21 the ALJ fails to specifically describe what “longitudinal treatment” evidence 22 specifically contradicted the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard. See Brown- 23 24 2 “It was recommended that the GAF be dropped from the DSM-V for 25 several reasons, including its conceptual lack of clarity (i.e., including symptoms, 26 suicide risk, and disabilities in its descriptors) and questionable psychometrics in 27 routine practice.” Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 16 (5th 28 ed. 2013). ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 8 1 Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (finding the agency must set 2 forth reasoning behind its decisions in a way that allows for meaningful review). If 3 the ALJ fails to specify his rationale, a reviewing court will be unable to review 4 those reasons meaningfully without improperly “substitut[ing] our conclusions for 5 the ALJ’s, or speculat[ing] as to the grounds for the ALJ’s conclusions.” Brown- 6 Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 quoting Treichler v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 7 F.3d 1090, 1103 (9th Cir. 2014). Because the ALJ failed to identify what specific 8 “longitudinal treatment history” evidence contradicted the medical opinions of Drs. 9 Jackson and Barnard, the Court finds this basis to discount their opinions is not 10 11 properly supported. The ALJ next held that the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard were 12 inconsistent with Plaintiff’s performance on physical and mental status 13 examinations. Tr. 25. Again, the ALJ does not identify what specific physical and 14 mental status examinations contradict the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard. 15 In fact, it appears to the Court that Drs. Jackson and Barnard are the only 16 acceptable medical sources to have examined Plaintiff during the relevant time 17 period, and their opinions are not inconsistent with their examination reports. This 18 was not a specific and legitimate reason to reject their opinions. 19 The ALJ next stated that Dr. Jackson’s and Dr. Barnard’s assessments were 20 not consistent with Plaintiff’s documented daily activities and social functioning. 21 Tr. 25. The ALJ does not specify conflicting daily activities or social functioning 22 other than to highlight Plaintiff started community college in 2013 and continued 23 to pursue his degree. Tr. 25. Although Plaintiff was taking a normal load of 24 college classes at the time of the administrative hearing (15 credits), he performed 25 most of his coursework online and only spent six hours a week on campus. Tr. 41- 26 42, 46-48. As asserted by Plaintiff, his ability to attend classes six hours a week 27 does not conflict with the medical opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard. ECF No. 28 15 at 10. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 9 1 The ALJ also notes Plaintiff had increased depression due to relationship 2 problems around the alleged onset date, but engaged in treatment and improved by 3 mid-2013; he was no longer suicidal; and his mental status examinations were 4 largely unremarkable. Tr. 25. At the time of Dr. Barnard’s May 2, 2013 5 examination evaluation, Plaintiff was taking Depakote. Tr. 530. Consequently, 6 marked and severe functional limitations were assessed by Dr. Barnard despite the 7 fact that Plaintiff had been treated for his mental health symptoms. Tr. 532. The 8 same is true with respect to Dr. Jackson’s opinions. In fact, Dr. Jackson opined 9 Plaintiff would miss four or more days per month due to anxiety issues more than a 10 year after “mid-2013.” Tr. 587. Furthermore, as argued by Plaintiff, the fact that 11 Plaintiff had not attempted suicide since mid-2013 did not definitively demonstate 12 that Plaintiff’s mental health symptoms were any less than as concluded by Drs. 13 Jackson and Barnard. The ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of Drs. Jackson and 14 Barnard on this basis as well. 15 The ALJ additionally discounted Dr. Jackson’s November 2014 report 16 because it was “equivocal”; specifically, she “suspected” Plaintiff may have to lie 17 down during the day due to muscular fatigue and indicated Plaintiff’s medications 18 “may” cause sedation. Tr. 25, 586. As asserted by Plaintiff, ECF No. 15 at 11 n.2, 19 even if these statements were ambiguous or equivocal, it would not affect, and is 20 thus an insufficient basis to discount, Dr. Jackson’s clear opinion that Plaintiff 21 would miss four or may days per month due to anxiety. Tr. 587. 22 The ALJ also determined that since Dr. Jackson was merely a primary care 23 physician, not an acceptable mental health source, she was not qualified to assess 24 Plaintiff’s psychological capacity. Tr. 25-26. Defendant explicitly did not rely on 25 the ALJ’s rationale in this regard. ECF No. 19 at 9. While the regulations 26 generally give more weight to the medical opinion of a specialist about medical 27 issues related to his or her area of specialty than to the medical opinion of a source 28 who is not a specialist, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(5); see Holohan v. Massanari, 246 ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 10 1 F.3d 1195, 1202 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2001), Dr. Jackson, Plaintiff’s treating physician 2 from March 2013 to October 2014, Tr. 586, was fully qualified to opine regarding 3 Plaintiff’s mental health symptoms and associated limitations. This was not a 4 proper basis to reject Dr. Jackson’s opinions. 5 The Court finds the ALJ provided no valid basis, other than the conflicting 6 opinions reflected in the assessments of the nonexamining state agency medical 7 professionals, Tr. 25, 67-74, 95-98, for discounting the opinions of Drs. Jackson 8 and Barnard. As indicated above, “[t]he opinion of a nonexamining physician 9 cannot by itself constitute substantial evidence that justifies the rejection of the 10 opinion of either an examining physician or a treating physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d 11 at 830. The ALJ erred by relying completely on the nonexamining medical 12 profession opinions in formulating Plaintiff’s RFC; accordingly, the ALJ’s 13 assessment of Plaintiff’s functioning is not supported by substantial record 14 evidence in this case. 15 Although the evidence of record demonstrates Plaintiff suffers from severe 16 impairments which adversely affect his ability to work, the Court is not convinced 17 Plaintiff’s impairments cause totally disabling limitations. However, Plaintiff’s 18 functioning is an administrative finding, dispositive of the case, which is reserved 19 to the Commissioner and, by delegation of authority, to the ALJ. SSR 96-5p. It is 20 the responsibility of the ALJ, not this Court, to assess Plaintiff’s level of 21 functioning. Therefore, Plaintiff’s RFC must be redetermined, on remand, taking 22 into consideration the opinions of the medical professionals noted above, as well as 23 any additional or supplemental evidence relevant to Plaintiff’s claim for disability 24 benefits. This matter will be remanded for additional proceedings in order for the 25 ALJ to further develop the record, take into consideration Plaintiff’s physical and 26 psychological impairments, and assess the limitations those impairments may have 27 on Plaintiff’s functionality. 28 /// ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 11 1 2 3 4 B. Plaintiff’s Subjective Complaints Plaintiff also contends the ALJ erred by improperly discrediting his symptom claims. ECF No. 15 at 12-18. It is the province of the ALJ to make credibility determinations. Andrews, 5 53 F.3d at 1039. However, the ALJ’s findings must be supported by specific 6 cogent reasons. Rashad v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1229, 1231 (9th Cir. 1990). Once 7 the claimant produces medical evidence of an underlying medical impairment, the 8 ALJ may not discredit testimony as to the severity of an impairment because it is 9 unsupported by medical evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 10 1998). Absent affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ’s reasons for rejecting 11 the claimant’s testimony must be “specific, clear and convincing.” Smolen, 80 12 F.3d at 1281; Lester, 81 F.3d at 834. “General findings are insufficient: rather the 13 ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines 14 the claimant’s complaints.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 834; Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 15 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993). 16 The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s medically determinable impairments 17 could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms; however, 18 Plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of 19 those symptoms were not entirely credible. Tr. 23. The ALJ listed the following 20 reasons to discount Plaintiff’s subjective complaints: (1) the objective medical 21 evidence did not substantiate Plaintiff’s allegations of disabling limitations; (2) 22 treatment records reflect Plaintiff’s symptoms improved with treatment; and (3) 23 Plaintiff’s independent daily activities and social interaction were inconsistent with 24 his allegations of disabling functional limitations. Tr. 23-24. 25 While some of the reasons provided by the ALJ for discounting Plaintiff’s 26 testimony may be supported by the evidence of record, this matter must be 27 remanded for additional proceedings in light of the ALJ’s erroneous determination 28 regarding the medical opinion evidence of record. Accordingly, on remand, the ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 12 1 ALJ shall also reconsider Plaintiff’s statements and testimony and discuss what 2 statements, if any, are not credible and what evidence undermines those 3 statements. 4 C. 5 Lay Witness Statement Plaintiff contends the ALJ further erred by improperly rejecting the lay 6 witness statements of Plaintiff’s mother, Rosie Rutz, Tr. 274-281. ECF No. 15 at 7 18-20. 8 9 The ALJ shall “consider observations by non-medical sources as to how an impairment affects a claimant’s ability to work.” Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 10 1226, 1232 (9th Cir. 1987), citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(e)(2). “Descriptions by 11 friends and family members in a position to observe a claimant’s symptoms and 12 daily activities have routinely been treated as competent evidence.” Sprague, 812 13 F.2d at 1232. The ALJ may not ignore or improperly reject the probative 14 testimony of a lay witness without giving reasons that are germane to each witness. 15 Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 919 (9th Cir. 1993). 16 The ALJ considered the statements of Ms. Rutz, found her observations 17 similar to Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and thus assigned little weight to Ms. 18 Rutz’ statements “for the same reasons” as he determined that Plaintiff’s 19 statements were not entirely credible (i.e., longitudinal treatment history, 20 performance on exam, and daily activities). Tr. 26; see Valentine v. Comm’r Soc. 21 Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 694 (9th Cir. 2009) (indicating that third-party 22 testimony can be rejected for the same reasons provided for rejecting the 23 claimant’s testimony). 24 As concluded above, this matter will be remanded for additional proceedings 25 in light of the ALJ’s erroneous determination regarding the medical opinion 26 evidence of record. In addition to reassessing Plaintiff’s RFC on remand, the ALJ 27 shall reevaluate Plaintiff’s statements and testimony. Accordingly, on remand, the 28 ALJ shall also reconsider and reevaluate the lay witness statements of Rosie Rutz ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 13 1 and the medical record as a whole with respect to Plaintiff’s limitations and 2 functioning. 3 CONCLUSION Plaintiff argues the ALJ’s decision should be reversed and remanded for an 4 5 immediate award benefits. The Court has the discretion to remand the case for 6 additional evidence and findings or to award benefits. Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1292. 7 The Court may award benefits if the record is fully developed and further 8 administrative proceedings would serve no useful purpose. Id. Remand is 9 appropriate when additional administrative proceedings could remedy defects. 10 Rodriguez v. Bowen, 876 F.2d 759, 763 (9th Cir. 1989). In this case, the Court 11 finds that further development is necessary for a proper determination to be made. 12 On remand, the ALJ shall revisit Plaintiff’s RFC. The ALJ shall reconsider 13 the opinions of Drs. Jackson and Barnard and all other medical evidence of record, 14 reassess Plaintiff’s statements and testimony, and reevaluate the statements of lay 15 witness Rosie Rutz. The ALJ shall develop the record further by directing Plaintiff 16 to undergo consultative physical and psychological examinations and/or by 17 eliciting the testimony of a medical expert or experts at a new administrative 18 hearing to assist the ALJ in formulating a new RFC determination. The ALJ shall 19 obtain supplemental testimony from a vocational expert, if necessary, and take into 20 consideration any other evidence or testimony relevant to Plaintiff’s disability 21 claim. 22 Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED: 23 1. 24 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15, is GRANTED, IN PART. 2. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 19, is DENIED. 3. The matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for additional proceedings consistent with this Order. ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 14 1 4. An application for attorney fees may be filed by separate motion. 2 The District Court Executive is directed to file this Order and provide a copy 3 to counsel for Plaintiff and Defendant. Judgment shall be entered for Plaintiff and 4 the file shall be CLOSED. 5 DATED November 6, 2017. 6 7 8 _____________________________________ JOHN T. RODGERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, PLAINTIFF’S MOTION . . . - 15

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?