Stewart v. Colvin

Filing 13

ORDER Affirming the Commissioner's Final Decision signed by Judge Richard A Jones. (TH)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 ANDRE DAVID STEWART, 8 Case No. C16-5963RAJ Plaintiff, 9 ORDER v. 10 NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting 11 Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. 12 13 Plaintiff Andre David Stewart seeks review of the Commissioner’s denial of his 14 application for Supplemental Security Income. He contends the administrative law judge 15 (“ALJ”) erred by discounting portions of the State agency psychological consultants’ opinions. 16 Dkt. 7. As discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s final decision. 17 BACKGROUND 18 Mr. Stewart is currently 25 years old, has a ninth-grade education, and previously 19 performed seasonal work in a warehouse. Tr. 36, 42-45. In May 2013, he protectively applied 20 for benefits, alleging disability as of September 1, 1998. Tr. 54, 150-55. His application was 21 denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 81-84, 89-90. The ALJ conducted a hearing on 22 February 24, 2015 (Tr. 30-53), and subsequently found Mr. Stewart not disabled. Tr. 13-25. As 23 the Appeals Council denied Mr. Stewart’s request for review, the ALJ’s decision is the ORDER - 1 1 Commissioner’s final decision. Tr. 1-6. THE ALJ’S DECISION 2 3 Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, 1 the ALJ found: 4 Step one: Mr. Stewart did not engage in substantial gainful activity after he applied for benefits. 5 Step two: Mr. Stewart’s learning disorder, dysthymic disorder, and mood disorder are severe impairments. 6 7 Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. 2 8 10 Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”): Mr. Stewart can perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but is limited to performing simple, routine tasks with no more than three steps. He cannot work with the public, but can have superficial contact with co-workers. 11 Step four: Mr. Stewart is unable to perform past relevant work. 12 Step five: Because Mr. Stewart can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, he is not disabled. 9 13 Tr. 13-25. 14 DISCUSSION 15 Mr. Stewart argues that the ALJ erred in discounting the opinions of State agency 16 psychological consultants Carla van Dam, Ph.D., and Michael Brown, Ph.D. Dr. van Dam 17 opined that Mr. Stewart “may have some difficulty sustaining normal workweek w/out 18 [psychological symptoms] interfering” and that he “may have some difficulty adapting to 19 changes due to his mood and social phobia.” Tr. 61-62. Dr. Brown found that Mr. Stewart could 20 complete simple, repetitive tasks on a full-time basis, with occasional waning in attention and 21 concentration, and that he would “do best” in a predictable work environment. Tr. 73-74. 22 23 1 2 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ORDER - 2 1 The ALJ summarized the opinions of Drs. van Dam and Brown, and explained that she 2 gave less weight to 3 their opinions about waning concentration, sustaining a normal workweek, and adapting to changes[.] The claimant is limited to simple routine work so any difficulty with change is addressed. Although the claimant has some concentration or persistence issues, he is able to watch television and movies all day, he can drive, he helps take care of his daughter, and he could persist through mental status testing. This suggests he is not as limited as opined by Dr. van Dam and Dr. Brown in this regard. 4 5 6 7 Tr. 23. 8 Mr. Stewart argues that restricting him to simple, routine tasks does not accommodate Dr. 9 van Dam’s opinion regarding his difficulty adapting to change, because she opined that he had 10 this difficulty “in the context of limiting him to short and simple instructions in the workplace. 11 Thus Dr. van Dam did not believe that such an accommodation would alleviate Stewart’s 12 adaptive limitations.” Dkt. 7 at 4. 13 This argument is not persuasive. Dr. van Dam did not indicate that a restriction to 14 simple, repetitive tasks was insufficient to account for Mr. Stewart’s adaptive limitations. The 15 form opinion she completed addressed Mr. Stewart’s functioning in multiple areas separately, 16 and therefore Dr. van Dam addressed Mr. Stewart’s adaptive limitations on their own, without 17 reference to the concentration/persistence limitations that led him to be restricted to simple tasks. 18 See Tr. 61-62. The ALJ reasonably interpreted her RFC assessment to be consistent with Dr. van 19 Dam’s opinion regarding Mr. Stewart’s adaptive limitations. See Turner v. Comm’r of Social 20 Sec. Admin., 613 F.3d 1217, 1222-23 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that an ALJ may incorporate the 21 opinions of a physician by assessing RFC limitations entirely consistent with, but not identical to 22 limitations assessed by the physician). 23 Mr. Stewart also argues that the ALJ erred in discounting the concentration/persistence ORDER - 3 1 limitations indicated by Drs. Van Dam and Brown in light of his daily activities (such as 2 watching movies all day, driving, caring for his young daughter, and attending appointments), 3 because the psychologists were aware of his daily activities and nonetheless found him to be 4 limited as to concentration/persistence. Dkt. 7 at 4-5. Mr. Stewart suggests that because the 5 psychologists actually cited his activities as a reason to disbelieve his allegations of disability, 6 his activities do not undermine the psychologists’ opinions. Dkt. 7 at 5. 7 This argument is unavailing, because the State agency psychologists did not have the 8 opportunity to review the entire record regarding Mr. Stewart’s activities: their review of the 9 record was completed more than a year before the administrative hearing, and they did not 10 therefore have the benefit of reviewing Mr. Stewart’s testimony at the hearing regarding his 11 activities. See Tr. 21 (ALJ’s decision referencing Mr. Stewart’s testimony regarding inter alia 12 his activities), 30-53 (hearing transcript). The ALJ reasonably interpreted the evidence regarding 13 Mr. Stewart’s activities to find them inconsistent with the State agency opinions, and properly 14 discounted the opinions on that basis. See Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 15 1982) (“Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ’s 16 conclusion which must be upheld. In reaching his findings, the law judge is entitled to draw 17 inferences logically flowing from the evidence.”); Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 856 (9th 18 Cir. 2001) (affirming an ALJ’s rejection of a treating physician’s opinion that was inconsistent 19 with the claimant’s level of activity). 20 // 21 // 22 // 23 // ORDER - 4 CONCLUSION 1 2 For the foregoing reasons, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED. 3 DATED this 13th day of November, 2017. 4 A 5 6 The Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 ORDER - 5

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