United States District Court, D. Oregon
JENNIFER D. W.,  Plaintiff,
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Mustafa T. Kasubhai United States Magistrate Judge.
Jennifer W. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) decision denying her application
for Disability Insurance Benefits. This Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
December 19, 2014 Plaintiff filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging disability as of
September 20, 2014. Tr. 166-67. Plaintiff was denied initially
upon application and upon reconsideration. Tr. 75-86, 87-97.
Upon Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held and on June
29, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her
claim. Tr. 13-22. The Appeals Council denied the request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Tr. 1. This appeal followed.
now contends that the ALJ erred: (1) in failing to provide a
legally sufficient reason to discount the opinion of treating
physician Dr. House; (2) in rejecting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony; and (3) in failing to properly
credit lay-witness testimony. For the reasons below, the
Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this matter
REMANDED for an immediate award of benefits.
reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence on the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
“Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere
scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Hill v. Astrue,
698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine
whether substantial evidence exists, this court reviews the
administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence
that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's
conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772
(9th Cir. 1986).
Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. If the
claimant satisfied her burden with respect to the first four
steps, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner with regard
to step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the
Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate the claimant is
capable of making an adjustment to other work after
considering the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 20, 2014. Tr.
15. A step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc
disease; fibromyalgia; and cervical degenerative disc
disease, status post fusion. Id. At step three, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments or combination of
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. Tr. 17.
to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's RFC
allowed her to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(a) except she can occasionally reach overhead to the
left and to the right. She can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Plaintiff's
time off task can be accommodated by normal breaks. Tr. 17.
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work as a secretary, personnel clerk, and
lending activities supervisor. Tr. 21. As a result, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was “not disabled” for
purposes of the Social Security Act and therefore did not
qualify for benefits. Tr. 22.
challenges the ALJ's non-disability determination on
three grounds. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to
provide legally sufficient reasons to discount the opinion of
Dr. House. Second, the ALJ erred in rejecting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony. And third, the ALJ erred in
failing to properly credit lay-witness testimony.
Treating physician's opinion
first challenges the ALJ's decision to give Dr.
House's opinions “little weight.” Pl.'s
Br. 4. The ALJ found that Dr. House's opinions where
“not supported with relevant evidence.” Tr. 19.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consider
the appropriate regulatory factors for weighing treating
physician opinions. Pl.'s Br. 4. Relying on Trevizo
v. Berryhill Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's
failure to consider the length of treating relationship,
frequency of medical examinations, nature and extent of
treatment relationship constitutes reversible error. The
Commissioner responds that the ALJ correctly discounted Dr.
House's opinions as laid out in her April 2017 letter
because they were not supported by relevant evidence.
Def.'s Br. 8. The ALJ's decision concludes that the
medical record objective evidence does not support the
allegations of disabling physical functioning. Tr. 18-19.
“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.” Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661,
671 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).
review of the medical record demonstrates that it contains
ample objective evidence supporting Dr. House's opinion
regarding the severity of Plaintiff's limitations. In her
April 2017 letter, Dr. House assessed that due to “her
well-established disabling diagnoses of cervical and
lumbosacral disc disease with ongoing radiculopathies and
permanent nerve damage, degenerative disc disease throughout
her spine, all complicated by fibromyalgia, ” Plaintiff
“requires frequent position changes including the
ability to lay down, and has difficulty typing.” Tr.
764-65. Plaintiff “cannot sit longer than 30 minutes
(even in an ergonomic chair), cannot stand for more than 5-10