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Logan v. Astrue

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


January 5, 2010

MICHAEL LOGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph Zarefsky United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff asserts a lack of substantial evidence to support the Administrative Law Judge's determination that Plaintiff could perform a limited range of light work. The consultant opined that Plaintiff could perform a medium level of work and, since the ability to perform work at a medium level subsumes the ability to perform work at a light level, 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), the consultant's opinion is evidence upon which the Administrative Law Judge was entitled to rely. Moreover, the Administrative Law Judge had good reasons for being more lenient than the consultant; the consultant had not considered recent spinal testing evidence [AR 12], and the Administrative Law Judge took Plaintiff at his word that he suffered from dyslexia. [AR 12-13]

Plaintiff asserts that because he received treatment but the treatment records did not disclose a residual functional capacity, that the Administrative Law Judge had an obligation to re-contact treating sources. This is not the law, however. Rather, the obligation to re-contact arises when there is an ambiguity in the record which prevents a determination on the merits. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453,459-60 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2001)). That was not the case here; the consultant's opinion, moderated to Plaintiff's benefit, provided an unambiguous basis for reaching a decision. The Court perceives no error in the Administrative Law Judge's determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.

Plaintiff also asserts that the Administrative Law Judge wrongly discounted his subjective complaints. The Court disagrees. Disc problems certainly can be expected to produce pain, but the Administrative Law Judge did not gainsay this fact. Rather, she gave supportable reasons that Plaintiff's condition was not disabling the way Plaintiff asserted. First, the extent of the medical evidence did not lend credence to Plaintiff's claim. While the back problems were clear, the medical evidence did not indicate radiculopathy or strength limitations. [AR 12] Objective medical evidence cannot alone discredit a claimant's subjective complaints, but it is still a factor that an administrative law judge can consider in making her assessment. Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F. 3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001). Second, the Administrative Law Judge noted that Plaintiff's treatment had been fairly conservative, primarily involving the use of Tylenol, Motrin and Vicodin, rather than more serious treatment such as epidural injections or surgery. [AR 12] This did not mean that Plaintiff did not experience pain, but rather that there was reason to believe that the pain was not disabling. This too was a factor the Administrative Law Judge was entitled to consider. Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1433 (9th Cir. 1995). Finally, the Administrative Law Judge fashioned a residual functional capacity to take into account Plaintiff's symptoms, moderating the RFC proposed by the consultant and state agency physicians, adding in a requirement of a sit/stand option and prohibiting extensive reading, in deference to Plaintiff's report of having dyslexia. [AR 12-13] Another fact-finder might have seen the facts differently, but the Court is required to accept those found by this hearing officer, even if reasonable minds might differ. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

There being no error, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

20100105

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