United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, Chief United States District Judge
Peggy Igou challenges the Commissioner's decision denying
her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental
Security Income pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-423
and 1381-1383f I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review the Administrative Law Judge's
("ALJ") decision. For the reasons stated below, I
have determined the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record, and I REVERSE and REMAND
the decision for further proceedings.
Igou filed an application for Title II disability insurance
benefits and for Title XVI supplemental security income to
the Commissioner on August 9, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of September 16, 2010. The claims were initially
denied on December 19, 2012, and again upon reconsideration
on April 19, 2013. Ms. Igou then filed a timely request on
June 1, 2013, for a hearing to review the Commissioner's
decision. An ALJ held a hearing on April 29, 2014, during
which Ms. Igou amended her alleged onset date to July 1,
2012. The ALJ subsequently issued a decision on July 14,
2014, in which he denied Ms. Igou's claim for benefits on
the basis that she was not disabled, as defined by the Social
made his decision based upon the five-step sequential
evaluation process established by the Secretary of Health and
Human Services. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (establishing the
five-step evaluative process for SSI claims). As an initial
matter, the ALJ determined that Ms. Igou met the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
December 31, 2015. At Step One, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Igou did not engage in substantial gainful activity during
the period from her amended alleged onset date of July 1,
2012, through July 14, 2014. At Step Two, the ALJ determined
that she had the following severe impairments: partial
coronary artery disease with one stent placement; diabetes;
sleep apnea; and C5-8 mild degenerative disc disease. At Step
Three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Igou did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment under
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P.
the ALJ determined that Ms. Igou had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work, with the following
limitations: occasional postural movements; never climb
ladders or work at heights; never work near hazards; no
crawling; seldom bend from the waist; walk only at a slow
pace; occasionally perform overhead work above shoulder level
bilaterally; occasionally use foot pedals bilaterally; no
exposure to concentrated levels of dusts, odors, fumes,
gases, and temperature extremes; no direct access to
cannabis; and only superficial interaction with the general
public. In addition, she needs hands-on training for
workplace setting changes, although she requires minimal
supervision. She can work independently, but with only a few
coworkers at a time. She cannot perform security work.
Finally, she would be off-task six percent of the workday in
Four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Igou was unable to perform
any past relevant work. Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ
determined that, given Ms. Igou's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that she could
have performed as of her date last insured. Specifically, the
Vocational Expert testified that Ms. Igou could work as a
small products assembler or a bench hand. Therefore, she was
not disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any
time through her date last insured.
review the ALJ's decision to ensure the ALJ applied
proper legal standards and made findings that are supported
by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554
F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (noting that the ALJ's
decision must be supported by substantial evidence and not
based on legal error). '"Substantial evidence'
means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d
1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). The decision
must be upheld if it is a rational interpretation of the
evidence, even if there are other possible rational
interpretations. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
750 (9th Cir. 1989). The reviewing court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the ALJ. Robbins, 466
Igou argues the ALJ erred in denying her claim for disability
benefits because his decision is not supported by substantial
evidence in the record. Specifically, she claims the ALJ
erred at Step Two in failing to include depression, obesity,
and lumbar degenerative disc disease as severe impairments.
At Step Three, Ms. Igou argues the ALJ erred in failing to
find that she met or equaled Listing 12.04. Next, she argues
the ALJ failed to include all of her restrictions in her
residual functional capacity. As a result, she argues the ALJ
failed at Step Five to show there are jobs in the national
economy she can perform given her residual functional
to these arguments is Ms. Igou's assertion that the ALJ
improperly rejected the opinions of her treating and
examining doctors, and her testimony. Accordingly, I first
consider whether the ALJ properly evaluated those pieces of
evidence. Then, I determine whether the ALJ erred during the
sequential evaluation process.
explained below, I find that the ALJ improperly evaluated the
medical opinions of Ms. Igou's treating and examining
doctors. He also failed to provide adequate reasons for
finding Ms. Igou's testimony not credible. These errors
were not harmless. As a result, the ALJ's findings at
Steps Two, Three, and Five are not supported by substantial
evidence in the record and must be reassessed.
I. The ALJ's Treatment of Treating and Examining
Igou argues that the ALJ erred as a matter of law in giving
"little weight" to the opinion of her treating
doctor, Dr. By eon, and in rejecting the opinion of Dr.
Dixon, a mental health professional who conducted a
consultative examination on Ms. Igou. The Commissioner argues
that the ALJ's reasons for giving limited weight to these
opinions are adequate, and, in any event, any error was
are three types of medical opinions in Social Security cases:
those from treating, examining, and non-examining doctors.
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995).
The medical opinion of a claimant's treating physician is
entitled to "special weight" because "he is
employed to cure and has a greater opportunity to know and
observe the patient as an individual." Rodriguez v.
Bowen, 876 F.2d 759, 761 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation
omitted). Additionally, the opinion of an examining physician
is entitled to greater weight than the opinion of a
nonexamining physician. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. If a
treating or examining doctor's opinion is contradicted by
another doctor's opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427
F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Lester, 81
F.3d at 830-31). "The ALJ can meet this burden by
setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and
conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings." Magallanes, 881
F.2d at 751 (citation omitted).
well-established that "the ALJ need not accept the
opinion of any physician, including a treating physician, if
that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported
by clinical findings." Thomas v Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Crane v.
Shalala, 76 F.3d 251, 253 (9th Cir. 1996) (ALJ may
"permissibly reject . . . check-off reports that [do]
not contain any explanation of the bases of their
conclusions"). A "physician's opinion of
disability 'premised to a large extent upon the
claimant's own accounts of [her] symptoms and
limitations' may be disregarded where those complaints
have been 'properly discounted.'" Morgan v.
Comm 'r Soc. Sec. Admin, 169 F.3d 595, 602 (9th Cir.
1999) (quoting Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 605 (9th
Cir. 1989)). However, "an ALJ may not reject an
examining physician's opinion by questioning the
credibility of the patient's complaints, 'where the
doctor does not discredit those complaints and supports his
ultimate opinion with his own observations.'"
Denby v. Colvin, l:15-cv-00191-SB, 2016 WL 917313,
at *6 (D. Or. March 8, 2016) (citing Ryan v. Comm 'r
o/Soc. Sec, 528 F.3d 1194 (9th Cir. 2008)).