United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
Morris, United States District Court Judge
Mike Iserloth filed a Complaint requesting a review of the
Social Security Administration's decision to deny him
disability benefits on November 8, 2016. (Doc. 2). Judge
Johnston entered Findings and Recommendations in this matter
on October 2, 2017. (Doc. 16.) Judge Johnston recommended
that the Court grant Iserloth's Motion for Summary
Judgment and deny the Commissioner's Motion for Summary
Judgment. Id. at 22. Judge Johnston further
recommended that Iserloth's claim be remanded to the
Commissioner with instructions for the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) to calculate and award benefits.
Commissioner timely filed an objection. (Doc. 17.) The
Commissioner objects to Judge Johnston's findings that
the ALJ improperly assessed Iserloth's credibility and
Dr. Warr's opinion. Id. at 2. The Commissioner
additionally objects to Judge Johnston's finding that
Iserloth has satisfied all of the requirements of the
“credit-as-true” rule. Id. The
Commissioner asks that this Court decline to adopt Judge
Johnston's findings and recommendations and affirm the
Commissioner's final decision. Id.
Court reviews de novo Findings and Recommendations
to which a party timely objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The Court reviews portions of Judge Johnston's Findings
and Recommendations not specifically objected to for clear
error. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach.,
Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981).
Johnston determined that the ALJ failed to identify what
specific testimony from Iserloth lacked credibility in light
of the evidence that the ALJ cited. (Doc. 16 at 12.) Judge
Johnston determined that it is not the Court's role to
discern what specific complaints the ALJ found not credible.
Id. at 12. The Ninth Circuit has recognized that
when evaluating a claimant's subjective symptom
testimony, the ALJ must identify specifically what testimony
is not credible and what evidence undermines the
claimant's complaints. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d
1273, 1282 (9th Cir. 1996). General findings prove
Commissioner agrees that the ALJ must identify the testimony
she found not credible. (Doc. 17 at 3.) The Commissioner
argues, however, that Judge Johnston overstated the level of
specificity that an ALJ must provide in that analysis.
Id. The Court agrees with Judge Johnston's
determination that the ALJ failed to identify what specific
testimony from Iserloth proved not credible. The ALJ made
general findings regarding Iserloth's abilities. The ALJ
further failed to link the non-credible evidence with the
particular part of the record that supported her
Dr. Warr's Opinion
may reject a treating physician's opinion when
contradicted by another physician's opinion only by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017). For example, contradictions
between a doctor's opinion and that doctor's own
clinical notes constitutes a specific and legitimate reason
to reject a treating physician's opinion that has been
contradicted. Valentine v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 692-93 (9th Cir. 2009).
Johnston determined that the ALJ gave very little weight to
Dr. Warr's opinion as Iserloth's treating physician.
(Doc. 16 at 14.) The ALJ gave “some weight” to
the opinions of Dr. David Jordan and Dr. William Fernandez.
Neither of these doctors treated or examined Iserloth.
Id. Judge Johnston determined that the ALJ failed to
provide, under these circumstances, a specific and legitimate
reason for rejecting Dr. Warr's opinions as the treating
physician. Id. at 16. Judge Johnston further
concluded that the ALJ failed to cite to the substantial
evidence that supported her determination that Dr. Warr's
opinions contradicted his clinical notes. Id.
Commissioner argues that the Court must look to the record to
see whether the evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions,
even if the ALJ referred to that evidence by exhibit number
rather than page number. (Doc. 17 at 4.) The Court functions
to provide a review of the ALJ's decision based on the
reasoning and factual findings set forth by the ALJ. Bray
v. Comm'r of SSA, 554 F.3d 1219, 1226 (9th Cir.
2009). The Court possesses a duty to look to the record to
see whether the evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions.
It proves nearly impossible, however, for the Court to know
on what issue the ALJ bases her decision when the ALJ cites
to the entirety of 140 pages of medical records. The Court
agrees with Judge Johnston's determination that the ALJ
failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons supported
by substantial evidence in rejecting Dr. Warr's opinion
as Iserloth's treating physician.
remand to the agency for “additional investigation or
explanation” generally provides the appropriate remedy.
Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775
F.3d 1090, 1099 (9th Cir. 2014). Congress has granted courts
some additional flexibility, however, “to reverse or
modify an administrative decision without remanding the case
for further proceedings.” Id. Remand for an
award of benefits proves appropriate under the following
circumstances: (1) the record has been developed fully and
further administrative proceedings would serve no useful
purpose; (2) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient
reasons for rejecting evidence, whether claimant testimony or
medical opinion; and (3) the ALJ would be required to find
the claimant disabled on remand if the improperly discredited
evidence were credited as true. Garrison v. Colvin,
759 F.3d 995, 1019 (9th Cir. 2014).
Johnston determined that Iserloth had satisfied all three
prongs of Garrison. (Doc. 16 at 21.) Judge Johnston
determined that the extensive record, including medical
records and testimony, corroborated Iserloth's
impairments. Id. Judge Johnston determined that the
ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for
rejecting the informed medical opinion of Dr. Warr. If Dr.
Warr's opinion was credited as true, Dr. Warr's
opinion establishes that Iserloth was disabled for the period
of time set forth in the “Disability
Questionnaire.” Id. Judge Johnston ...