Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Raught v. Astrue

October 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge



This matter is before the Court for review of the Decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and the defendant have filed their pleadings, the defendant has filed the certified transcript of record, and the parties have filed a joint stipulation. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

On May 25, 2004, Plaintiff Darla Estelle Raught filed an application for Supplemental Security Income alleging an inability to work since January 1, 1997, due to disability. (AR 43). The claim was denied initially on September 1, 2004, and upon re-consideration on January 29, 2005. (AR 31, 37). The Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on March 29, 2005. The Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on July 10, 2006 in San Bernardino, CA. (AR 405). Following receipt of a Decision denying benefits on October 16, 2006, Plaintiff sought review to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council declined review on March 14, 2007. (AR 3-5).

Plaintiff makes five challenges to the ALJ's determination. Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred 1) in failing to properly represent the medical evidence and consider the treating psychiatrist's findings; 2) in failing to properly consider whether the Plaintiff had a "severe" mental impairment; 3) in failing to properly rate Plaintiff's mental functional limitations; 4) in failing to obtain vocational expert testimony for Plaintiff's non-exertional limitations; 5) in failing to make proper credibility findings about Plaintiff's testimony.

Each of Plaintiff's contentions will be addressed in turn.

ISSUE NO.1: The ALJ Properly Represented The Medical Evidence and the Treating Psychiatrist's Opinion

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly consider the opinions of Dr. Patel, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist. A treating physician's opinion is entitled greater weight than that of an examining physician. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1230 (9th Cir. 1987)); 20 C.F.R § 416.927 (d) (1). "The treating physician's opinion is not, however, necessarily conclusive as to either a physical condition or the ultimate issue of disability." Magallanes v. Bowen, supra (citing Rodriguez v. Bowen, 876 F.2d 759, 761-62 n.7 (9th Cir. 1989)). The weight given a treating physician's opinion depends on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is consistent with other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R §416.927 (b)- (d). "The [Commissioner] may disregard the treating physician's opinion whether or not that opinion is contradicted." Magallanes v. Bowen, supra (citing Cotton v. Bowen, 799 F.2d 1403, 1408 (9th Cir. 1986)). A treating physician's medical opinion unsupported by medical findings, personal observations, or test results may be rejected. See Burkart v. Bowen, 856 F. 2d 1335, 1339 (9th Cir. 1988).

In his Decision, the ALJ carefully considered and evaluated Dr. Patel's findings. The ALJ noted that on April 7,1999, Dr. Patel provided an initial psychiatric assessment of Plaintiff, who had been sober from amphetamine abuse for one month. AR 15, 124. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Patel for the following two months and that on May 18, 1999, Plaintiff reported a good response to Paxil. AR 15, 117. The ALJ also stated that Plaintiff failed to attend her following appointments with Dr. Patel and her file was closed on August 24, 1999. AR 15. The ALJ further acknowledged that Plaintiff did not indicate during her testimony having a mental impairment and that there was no evidence indicating that Plaintiff received further psychiatric treatment. AR 15. Moreover, as the Defendant notes, Dr. Patel did not make any functional limitation findings. AR 114-125. Accordingly, Plaintiff's short period of treatment, her report of having a good response to Paxil, not receiving further psychiatric treatment supported the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff did not suffer a disabling mental limitation.

Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ improperly represented the evidence and failed to discuss certain findings of Dr. Patel from his initial assessment on April 7, 1999. The ALJ may draw inferences logically from the evidence. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). Also, a reviewing court may draw specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989). Hence, contrary to Plaintiff's contention, the ALJ is not required to mention every detail of the record in his Decision and is only required to explain why "significant evidence has been rejected." Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-1395. (9th Cir. 1984). In the present case, Dr. Patel's initial assessments should be considered in the totality of all the evidence including that Plaintiff had just begun the first day of her treatment with Dr. Patel, reported a good response to Paxil six weeks later and did not seek further psychiatric treatment after her short two months treatment with Dr. Patel.

In addition, the two consultative psychiatric examinations further supported the ALJ's finding. On July 30, 2002, Dr. Smith conducted a consultative psychiatric examination. AR 15,147. The ALJ noted Dr. Smith's findings that the plaintiff's thought processes, thought content, mood and affect, speech, intellectual functioning, memory, fund of knowledge, concentration and calculation, ability to make abstractions, and judgment and insight were all intact. AR 15, 149-150.

The ALJ stated that Dr. Smith diagnosed a depressive disorder, NOS, and a GAF of 65. AR15. The ALJ also noted Dr. Smith's finding that Plaintiff had mild depression, at most, in the ability to interact with co-workers, supervisors or the public. AR15, 151. In his Decision, the ALJ concluded by agreeing with Dr. Smith, but stated that the record does not indicate that plaintiff has mild depression affecting her ability to work. AR 15.

Moreover, Dr. Smith's functional assessment indicated that Plaintiff is not impaired in her ability to understand, remember or complete simple or complex commands; to comply with job rules such as safety and attendance; to respond to change in the normal workplace; to maintain persistence and pace in a normal workplace setting; and that Plaintiff is mildly impaired in her ability to interact appropriately with supervisors, co-workers, or the public due to possible interference from depressed mood. AR 151. Dr. Smith also noted that Plaintiff was not receiving any psychiatric care, that antidepressants had helped her in the past, and that she is likely to improve again if she resumes psychiatric care or psychiatric medication. AR 151.

Furthermore, on July 21, 2003, Dr. Fontana conducted a consultative psychiatric examination and found no justification for mental limitations. AR 16. Dr. Fontana assessed Plaintiff with a GAF score of 65 and diagnosed Plaintiff with cannabis and methamphetamine abuse, in remission, and dysthymic disorder. AR 16. In his Decision, the ALJ noted that Dr. Fontana's mental status examination showed no abnormalities. AR 16.

The ALJ concurred and adopted Dr. Fontana's assessment. AR 15. Dr. Fontana's functional assessment indicated that the Plaintiff is incapable of managing her own funds based on her past history of substance abuse; is able to accept instructions from supervisors and interact with co-workers and the public; should be able to perform simple and repetitive tasks as well as more detailed and complex tasks; should be able to perform work activities on a consistent basis; and should be able to maintain regular attendance in the workplace and complete a normal workday or workweek. AR 205-206.

Moreover, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider the GAF score of 40, and erred in noting that the GAF score factored in the Plaintiff's recent amphetamine abuse. A GAF score uses a single value that best reflects the claimant's overall level of psychological, social and occupational functioning. American Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 1994) (revised 2002). The ALJ may consider the GAF score in formulating the RFC but " it is not essential to the RFC's accuracy. [t]he ALJ's failure to reference the GAF score in the RFC, standing alone, does not make the RFC inaccurate." Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F. 3d 235, 241 (6th Cir. Mich. 2002). Furthermore, the GAF scale "does not have a ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.