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Cook v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 2, 2014

LLOYD COOK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JAMES A. REDDEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lloyd Cook brings this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.


Plaintiff filed his applications on December 30, 2008, alleging disability since March 1, 2008, due to "lower neck and upper spine injury." Tr. 419. Plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of application. He completed a general equivalency degree. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held on November 8, 2010. Tr. 64-84. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found him not disabled on November 18, 2010. Tr. 92-103. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request for review, and remanded the case to the ALJ. Tr. 190-94. On April 24, 2012, a second hearing was held. Tr. 47-61. On May 24, 2012, the ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 16-34. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.


The ALJ found Plaintiff had the medically determinable severe impairments of degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine, an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, and a personality disorder. Tr. 19.

The ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Id.

The ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work but he was limited to not more than occasional overhead reaching, can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolding and never crawl. He can occasionally stoop, crouch, or kneel. He must avoid unprotected heights and hazardous machinery, and is limited to simple, entry level positions with no interaction with the public. Tr. 20.

At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a user support specialist, an electronics mechanic, and as a sales engineer, but that there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform such as small products assembler, hand packager, and sorter. Tr. 33-34.

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by improperly weighing medical opinions and by finding him capable of work requiring specific reasoning levels. Because this matter must be remanded for consideration of the medical opinions, the court will not address Plaintiffs Step Five arguments.


Disability opinions are reserved for the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1527(e)(l); 416.927(e)(l). If no conflict arises between medical source opinions, the ALJ generally must accord greater weight to the opinion of a treating physician than that of an examining physician. Lester v. Chafer, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). More weight is given to the opinion of a treating physician because the person has a greater opportunity to know and observe the patient as an individual. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007). In such circumstances the ALJ should also give greater weight to the opinion of an examining physician over that of a reviewing physician. Id. If a treating or examining physician's opinion is not contradicted by another physician, the ALJ may only reject it for clear and convincing reasons. Id. (Treating physician); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006) (examining physician). Even if one physician is contradicted by another physician, the ALJ may not reject the opinion without providing specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record. Orn, 495 F.3d at 632; Widmark, 454 F.3d at 1066. The opinion of an nonexamining physician, by itself, is insufficient to constitute substantial evidence to reject the opinion of a treating or examining physician. Widmark, 454 F.3d at 1066 n. 2. The ALJ may reject physician opinions that are "brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005).

I. Keli Dean, Psy.D.

On August 5 and 11, 2011, Dr. Dean administered a psychological and achievement evaluation of Plaintiff at the request of Vocational Rehabilitation. Tr. 1703-16. Plaintiff "was unable to complete testing the first day because his pain and fatigue became so significant." Tr. 1706. Dr. Dean administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Woodcock Johnson Tests of ...

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