United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION & ORDER
AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
States Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin issued his Findings and
Recommendation ("F&R") on November 28, 2018
(doc. 16). Judge Coffin recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for
further proceedings with regard to Plaintiffs claim for
disability insurance benefits. The F&R is now before me
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. I review de novo
those portions of the F&R to which objection is made. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Holder v. Holder, 392
F.3d 1009, 1022 (9th Cir. 2004). For the reasons that follow,
the Court ADOPTS Judge Coffin's F&R and REMANDS the
case for further proceedings.
the Federal Magistrates Act ("Act"), the Court may
"accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If a party objects to a magistrate
judge's F&R, "the court shall make a de
novo determination of those portions of the report or
specified proposed findings or recommendations to which
objection is made." Id; Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(b)(3). For those portions of a magistrate judge's
F&R to which neither party has objected, the Act does not
prescribe any standard of review. United States, v.
Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en
banc) (holding that the court must review de novo
magistrate judge's findings and recommendations if
objection is made, "but not otherwise"). Although
in the absence of objections no review is required, the Act
"does not preclude further review by the district
judge sna sponte . . . under a de novo or
any other standard." Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S.
140, 154 (1985).
Commissioner timely objects to Judge Coffin's F&R and
those objections are discussed below.
Coffin determined that the ALJ erred in relying on the
opinion of the examining physician, Dr. Maughan, because Dr.
Maughan "did not consider, mention, or even indicate an
awareness of plaintiffs diagnosis of Lyme disease when
assessing plaintiffs functional limitations." F&R at
4. The Commissioner makes two objections to Judge
Coffin's F&R: (i) no agency regulation, ruling, or
Ninth Circuit case law precludes an ALJ from relying on a
doctor's opinion merely because the doctor did not
diagnose Lyme disease, and (ii) even if Dr. Maughan's
findings were not worthy of reliance, the ALJ nonetheless
provided other relevant reasons for rejecting Plaintiffs
allegations, Ms. Paetzhold's opinion, and Dr.
with Judge Coffin that further proceedings are necessary. On
remand, the ALJ should contact Dr. Maughan, Dr. Dietlein, and
Ms. Paetzhold to obtain more specific information in light of
Plaintiff s Lyme Disease and conduct a new step 5 analysis.
disease is a unique illness. As the record in Plaintiffs case
indicates, its symptoms are elusive, and it can take many
attempts to receive a proper diagnosis. Even once diagnosed,
the disease's effects can be unpredictable and only show
themselves on limited occasions during "flare ups."
As Dr. Dietlein, one of Plaintiffs examining psychologists
explained, individuals with Lyme disease often have episodes
of good and poor functioning-both physical and mental
functioning can be impacted, Therefore, a snapshot assessment
of Plaintiff s functional limitations without considering
Plaintiffs underlying Lyme disease cannot be given
twenty-minute exam, Dr. Maughan did not indicate any
awareness of Plaintiffs Lyme disease. Judge Coffin thought
that this failure was legally problematic. Judge Coffin's
F&R took issue with the ALJ's reliance on Dr.
Maughan's opinion because it failed to acknowledge the
possibility that Plaintiff was essentially just having a
"good day" on the day that Dr. Maughan examined
her. Dr. Maughan was, after all, only Plaintiffs examining
physician and therefore did not have the benefit of a long
treating relationship with Plaintiff to contextualize his
Coffin's F&R also indicates that he believed the
soundness of the ALJ's reliance on Dr. Maughan's
opinion was a threshold issue. And if reliance on Dr.
Maughan's testimony was flawed, then so was the ALJ's
decision to discount the testimony and opinion evidence from
Plaintiff and her other medical providers based on Dr.
Commissioner objects to Judge Coffin's assessment of the
ALJ's decision to discredit Plaintiffs testimony so I
review that section de novo. 28 U.S.C. §
Judge Coffin explained, one of the reasons provided for
rejecting Plaintiffs testimony was its inconsistency with the
medical evidence. But the medical evidence was largely a
reference to Dr. Maughan's opinion ...