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Ramos v. Astrue

February 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Wistrich United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

Administrative Proceedings

The parties are familiar with the procedural facts, which are summarized in the Joint Stipulation. [See JS 2]. In a September 9, 2008 written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this case, an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of inflammatory, probably psoriatic, arthritis*fn1 , level III obesity, lumbar spine disorder, cervical spine disorder, and hypertension. [Administrative Record ("AR") 197]. The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for a restricted range of light work. [AR 199]. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled because his RFC did not preclude him from performing work available in significant numbers in the national economy. [AR 201-202].

Standard of Review

The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r Social Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)(internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954 (citing Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999)).



Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not properly analyze, or make findings with respect to, the effects of plaintiff's obesity. [JS 3-10].

Plaintiff was 24 years old when the ALJ issued his decision. [See AR 52]. He is five feet, seven inches tall, and his weight as reported in the record ranged from 220 pounds to 262 pounds. [AR 55, 415, 437, 441, 449, 452].

Contrary to plaintiff's contention that the ALJ did not consider plaintiff's obesity at step two of the sequential evaluation procedure [JS 5], the ALJ found that plaintiff's obesity was a severe impairment. [AR 197]. The ALJ considered the combined effect of plaintiff's obesity and his other severe impairments on his ability to work. [See AR 197-201].

Plaintiff relies on Social Security Ruling 02-01, which states that "[w]hen establishing the existence of obesity, we will generally rely on the judgment of a physician who has examined the claimant and reported his or her appearance and build, as well as height and weight." [JS 2]. Plaintiff also argues that "[o]besity can cause limitation of function." [JS 6]. What plaintiff hasnotdone is point to any evidence in the record suggesting that plaintiff's obesity caused a limitation in function greater than that comprehended by the ALJ's RFC finding.

The ALJ concluded that there was "no dispute among the treating, examining, and reviewing medical sources regarding the basic severity of [plaintiff's] combination of physical impairments." [AR 197]. Plaintiff's "combination of physical impairments," of course, included his severe obesity. F o r example, Dr. Jamil, one of the two consultative internists who examined plaintiff at the Commissioner's request, opined in February 2005 that plaintiff could perform a restricted range of light work despite "moderate obesity." [AR 146]. The second consultative internist, Dr. Lin, also noted "obesity" as a diagnosis, but he concluded that plaintiff's impairments did not preclude him from performing light work. [AR 418]. Treatment reports from Kaiser Permanente do not suggest that plaintiff's obesity or other impairments warranted a more restrictive functional capacity than that found by the ALJ. Plaintiff reported symptoms of joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness of varying intensity-sometimes mild, sometimes severe-related to his diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. At times he exhibited swelling and limited range of spinal motion, but at other times those findings were normal. Plaintiff's joint symptoms were consistently described as responding well to Remicade*fn2 infusions every six to eight weeks and other prescribed medication. Stretching exercises also helped his stiffness. Plaintiff's treating physicians at Kaiser did not document particular concerns about plaintiff's obesity, nor do their treatment notes reflect that he was medically advised to lose weight. [See AR 354-393, 429-464].

There is no evidence of obesity-related functional limitations that were overlooked by the ALJ. The mere fact that plaintiff was obese or was diagnosed with obesity, without more, says little or nothing about the functionally limiting effects of that condition. See Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642-643 (9th Cir. 1982) (noting that the existence of a diagnosed emotional disorder "is not per se disabling," and stating that "there must be proof of the impairment's disabling severity"); Hinkle v. Apfel, 132 F.3d 1349, 1352 (10th Cir. 1997) (stating that ...

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