Henry v. Berryhill

Filing 10

ORDER affirming the Commissioner's final decision and dismissing this case with prejudice. Signed by Judge Marsha J. Pechman. (PM)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 KEENA V. HENRY, 8 Case No. C18-856 MJP Plaintiff, 9 v. 10 NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy 11 Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, 12 13 ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE Defendant. Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of her applications for Supplemental Security Income 14 and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by discounting the opinions 15 of an examining doctor. Dkt. 7. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s 16 final decision and DISMISSES the case with prejudice. 17 BACKGROUND 18 Plaintiff is currently 28 years old, has a high school education, and has worked as a 19 teacher’s aide and a janitor. Administrative Record (AR) 20-21. Plaintiff applied for benefits in 20 2014, alleging disability since birth. AR 88. Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially and on 21 reconsideration. AR 86, 87, 112, 113. After the ALJ conducted a hearing in November 2016, 22 the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. AR 10-22. 23 ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -1 THE ALJ’S DECISION 1 2 Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, 1 the ALJ found: 3 Step one: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. 4 5 Step two: Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, disorder of skin tissue, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder. 6 Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment. 2 7 10 Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff can perform light work. She can never climb ladders, rope, and scaffolding. She can occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can frequently stoop. She should avoid concentrated exposure to humidity, extreme heat, and hazards. She can perform simple routine tasks, in a routine work environment with simple work-related decisions. She can only have superficial interaction with coworkers and supervisors, and incidental interaction with the public that is not a required element of her job. 11 Step four: Plaintiff has no past relevant work. 12 Step five: As there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, she is not disabled. 8 9 13 AR 12-22. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s 14 decision the Commissioner’s final decision. AR 1. 15 DISCUSSION 16 This Court may set aside the Commissioner’s denial of social security benefits only if the 17 ALJ’s decision is based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a 18 whole. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). Each of an ALJ’s findings must 19 be supported by substantial evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). 20 “Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant 21 22 1 23 2 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1. ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -2 1 evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. 2 Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). 3 The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and 4 resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th 5 Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh 6 the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 7 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one interpretation, 8 the Commissioner’s interpretation must be upheld if rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 9 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005). 10 Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by discounting the opinions of examining psychologist 11 David Widlan, Ph.D. Dkt. 7. An ALJ may only reject the uncontradicted opinion of an 12 examining doctor by giving “clear and convincing” reasons. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 13 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Even if an examining doctor’s opinion is contradicted by another doctor’s 14 opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by stating “specific and legitimate” reasons. Id. The ALJ can 15 meet this standard by providing “a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting 16 clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Id. (citation omitted). 17 “The ALJ must do more than offer his conclusions. He must set forth his own interpretations 18 and explain why they, rather than the doctors’, are correct.” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725. 19 After examining plaintiff in April 2014 and April 2016, Dr. Widlan opined that she had 20 severe limitation in the ability to complete a normal work day and work week without 21 interruptions from psychologically based symptoms, and marked limitations in the abilities to 22 follow detailed instructions, maintain punctual attendance, learn new tasks, adapt to changes and 23 make simple decisions at work, be cautious of normal hazards, and communicate and perform ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -3 1 effectively at work. AR 369, 791. 2 The ALJ gave Dr. Widlan’s opinions “minimal weight” because plaintiff’s presentation 3 to him differed markedly from what her care providers described, and because Dr. Widlan’s 4 opinions were based less on objective evidence than on plaintiff’s unreliable self-reports. AR 5 17-18, 19. 6 A. 7 Plaintiff argues in her reply brief that the ALJ cited plaintiff’s differing presentations to Contradiction with Treatment Records 8 discount only her own testimony, not Dr. Widlan’s opinions. Dkt. 9 at 2. That is incorrect. In 9 the paragraph addressing Dr. Widlan’s opinions, the ALJ stated: “As already discussed, the 10 claimant’s abnormal examination findings during Dr. Widlan’s state agency evaluations are 11 inconsistent with her presentation with treatment providers.” AR 19. 12 An ALJ may discount a medical opinion that is contradicted by other evidence in the 13 medical record. See Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004). 14 Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that plaintiff presented differently to Dr. Widlan 15 than to treatment providers. Plaintiff reported “no history of” substance abuse to Dr. Widlan, but 16 in December 2014 she told a medical provider that she had abused cocaine in 2010 and misused 17 muscle relaxers “in the past.” AR 368, 790, 751. Plaintiff told Dr. Widlan that she had manic 18 symptoms including racing thoughts, but in October 2013 denied to a care provider that she had 19 manic symptoms, specifically including racing thoughts. AR 368, 789, 472. The ALJ 20 reasonably inferred that statements to treatment providers were more likely to be accurate, and 21 thus concluded that Dr. Widlan’s evaluation relied on inaccurate information. See AR 19; 22 Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 (“[T]he Commissioner’s findings are upheld if supported by inferences 23 reasonably drawn from the record.”). This was a specific and legitimate reason to discount Dr. ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -4 1 Widlan’s opinions, because Dr. Widlan clearly relied on plaintiff’s self-reports of racing 2 thoughts for his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and symptoms of mania including “racing 3 thoughts.” AR 372, 790; see Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661, 671 (9th Cir. 2012) (that doctor 4 was “undoubtedly influenced” by incorrect information was a specific and legitimate reason to 5 discount opinion). 6 B. 7 Plaintiff argues that Dr. Widlan did not rely more heavily on her reports than his own Reliance on Plaintiff’s Reports 8 objective testing. If an examining doctor’s “opinions are based ‘to a large extent’ on an 9 applicant’s self-reports and not on clinical evidence, and the ALJ finds the applicant not credible, 10 the ALJ may discount the treating provider’s opinion.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1162 11 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008)). The ALJ 12 found plaintiff not credible, and plaintiff does not challenge that finding. AR 18. “However, 13 when an opinion is not more heavily based on a patient’s self-reports than on clinical 14 observations, there is no evidentiary basis for rejecting the opinion.” Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1162. 15 “[T]he rule allowing an ALJ to reject opinions based on self-reports does not apply in the same 16 manner to opinions regarding mental illness.” Buck v. Berryhill, 869 F.3d 1040, 1049 (9th Cir. 17 2017). Clinical interviews and mental status evaluations “are objective measures and cannot be 18 discounted as a ‘self-report.’” Id. However, Dr. Widlan’s findings in the mental status exam 19 differed significantly from treatment providers’ findings. In an April 2014 psychological 20 evaluation, plaintiff’s provider found entirely normal results except for anxious mood. AR 824. 21 In contrast, in April 2014, Dr. Widlan found anxious and depressed mood, restricted affect, and 22 abnormal thought content and process. AR 370. The only measures that were based entirely on 23 Dr. Widlan’s own observation—appearance, speech pattern, and attitude and behavior—were all ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -5 1 normal. AR 370. “When presented with conflicting medical opinions, the ALJ must determine 2 credibility and resolve the conflict.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1195. The ALJ’s conclusion that 3 treating provider findings were more likely to be accurate is rational and must be upheld. See 4 Burch, 400 F.3d at 680-81. Reliance on plaintiff’s discredited self-reports was another specific 5 and legitimate reason to discount Dr. Widlan’s opinions. 6 The Court concludes the ALJ did not err by discounting Dr. Widlan’s opinions. CONCLUSION 7 8 For the foregoing reasons, the Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED and this 9 case is DISMISSED with prejudice. 10 DATED this 4th day of December, 2018. 12 A 13 MARSHA J. PECHMAN United States District Judge 11 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION AND DISMISSING THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE -6

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