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Galicia v. Astrue

October 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge


Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying his application for Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB"). Because the Agency's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, it is affirmed.

In September 2005, Plaintiff applied for DIB. (Administrative Record ("AR") 90-94.) The Agency initially denied the application. (AR 45-49.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 475-514.) Following the hearing, the ALJ denied the application. (AR 10-27.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 6-9.) He then commenced this action.

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in:

1) failing to properly consider treating psychiatrist Thomas Curtis's opinion;

2) failing to consider Dr. Curtis's "significant treatment notes"; and

3) finding that Plaintiff's mental impairment was not severe at step two of the sequential disability analysis. (Joint Stip. at 3-9, 11-12, 14.) For the following reasons, the Court finds that none of these claims merits remand or reversal.

In his first claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not properly consider Dr. Curtis's opinion. (Joint Stip. at 3-9.) The thrust of Plaintiff's argument is that Dr. Curtis administered a number of objective psychological tests and set forth in detail the nature of the tests, the results of the tests, and his interpretation of the results, but that the ALJ did not discuss these findings in her decision. (Joint Stip. at 8.) In Plaintiff's view, this was error. For the following reasons, the Court disagrees.

In support of his argument that the ALJ should have discussed the test scores and Dr. Curtis's analysis of them, Plaintiff cites a string of cases that support the general proposition that a treating doctor's opinion is entitled to deference over the opinions of non-treating doctors. (Joint Stip. at 8.) Plaintiff, however, cites no authority for the proposition that an ALJ is required to set forth in detail in her decision the results of objective tests performed by the treating physician and discuss those results. Nor has the Court found any authority for such a proposition.

Clearly, an ALJ is required to discuss a treating physician's opinion and may only reject it for specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007). But there is no requirement that the ALJ discuss every aspect of a treating doctor's report. As this case shows, that would be an impractical and unmanageable task in many cases. Dr. Curtis did not simply conduct a test on one occasion--which one might expect an ALJ could set out and discuss in detail--he administered a total of six tests on two occasions, including the Beck Depression Inventory, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, the Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation, the Neuroticism Scale Questionnaire, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and the Personality Assessment Inventory. (AR 259-264, 303-06.) His reports discussing these tests are single-spaced and run 33 pages long. (AR 248-312.) The ALJ's decision, which is 15 pages long, would have had to have been considerably longer if she had discussed the details of the tests performed by Dr. Curtis. Instead, what the ALJ did was summarize Dr. Curtis's reports and the reports of two other psychiatrists who examined Plaintiff in connection with this case. (AR 19-22.) Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's psychiatric impairments were not severe. (AR 19-22.) As discussed below, the Court finds that this conclusion was not in error. But to the point raised in Plaintiff's first claim, the Court holds that the ALJ is not required to set forth the results of tests performed by Plaintiff's treating physician, or any other physician, in reaching her decision. Nor does the Court find that the ALJ's failure to do so here was in error.

In his second claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to consider Dr. Curtis's treatment notes in reaching her conclusion that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Joint Stip. at 11-12.) Plaintiff excerpts numerous notes from Dr. Curtis's records in which Dr. Curtis states, for example, that Plaintiff suffered from anxiety and depression and was temporarily unable to work. (AR 11-12.) The Court concludes that the ALJ did not err here.

It is clear from reading the ALJ's decision that she considered Dr. Curtis's records, including his progress notes. For example, the ALJ discussed the fact that Plaintiff complained to his doctors that he suffered from "deficits of attention and concentration," but noted that "no such problems have been consistently reported or observed among the various medical sources." (AR 21.) The record supports this observation and, more importantly, it demonstrates that the ALJ read and considered Dr. Curtis's progress notes. (AR 242-47, 288-91.) Plaintiff's claims to the contrary are rejected.

Finally, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ erred in finding at step two that his psychiatric impairment was not severe. (Joint Stip. at 14.) For the following reasons, this claim is rejected.

Three psychiatrists and a psychologist offered opinions on Plaintiff's condition: Dr. Marusak, Dr. Ritvo, Dr. Curtis, and Dr. Bamgbose. Plaintiff went to see Dr. Gregory Marusak first, in May 2004, in connection with his worker's compensation case. (AR 419-27.) Dr. Marusak found that Plaintiff's reported level of psychological distress was genuine and that his anxiety level was moderate, but reported that Plaintiff's scores on a battery of psychological tests he administered to Plaintiff were within normal limits. (AR 418-20.) Dr. Marusak diagnosed Plaintiff with "occupational problem with ...

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