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Seiuli v. Astrue

April 26, 2010

SIALEI SEIULI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying her applications for Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he: 1) failed to consider a treating doctor's statement that she needed a disabled placard for her car; 2) found that her hypertension was controlled with medication; 3) failed to consider the dosage of her prescribed medication; and 4) failed to properly consider whether she met or equaled Listing 1.02. (Joint Stip. at 3-4, 7-8, 9-10, 11-15.)

Because the Agency's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, it is affirmed.

II. SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on April 7, 2006, alleging that she had been unable to work since November 30, 2005, because of arthritis in her knees and ankle, and a left ankle fracture that she suffered in a fall in October 2005. (Administrative Record ("AR") 39, 97.) The Agency denied the application initially and on reconsideration. (AR 35-42, 47-52.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 54, 62-66.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing on February 5, 2008. (AR 15-34.) On March 4, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 8-14.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 1-4.) Plaintiff then commenced the instant action.

III. DISCUSSION

1. The Treating Doctor's Opinion

In her first claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider a May 24, 2006 chart note by her treating doctor Edward Keiderling. In the note, Dr. Keiderling reported that he had filled out a form for Plaintiff to obtain a temporary disability placard from DMV, and that he intended to fill out a disability form to place Plaintiff on disability for four months. (AR 208.) Plaintiff argues that, though the ALJ referred to this statement in his decision, he did not explain whether he accepted or rejected this "opinion" that she was disabled. (Joint Stip. at 3-4.) For the following reasons, the Court finds that this claim does not warrant remand or reversal.

Dr. Keiderling's chart note from May 2006 was almost two years old when the ALJ decided in March 2008 that Plaintiff was not disabled. Accepting as true Dr. Keiderling's "opinion" that Plaintiff was disabled and needed a DMV placard for four months (i.e., until September 2006), it would still not have affected the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff was not disabled in March 2008.

Furthermore, though, in general, a treating doctor's opinion is entitled to deference, see Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007), a treating doctor's opinion regarding the ultimate issue of disability is not entitled to any special weight. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004) ("[A] treating physician's opinion is . . . not binding on an ALJ with respect to the . . . ultimate determination of disability."); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(3); see also Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-5p (stating that opinion that claimant is disabled, "even when offered by a treating source, can never be entitled to controlling weight or given special significance"). This is particularly true where, as here, the doctor's opinion was based in large measure on Plaintiff's reports to him of her subjective complaints and the ALJ found that she was not credible. See Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008) ("An ALJ may reject a treating physician's opinion if it is based to a large extent on a claimant's self-reports that have been properly discounted as incredible.") (quotation omitted).

Assuming Plaintiff is right and Dr. Keiderling's May 2006 chart note constitutes an opinion that Plaintiff was disabled, that opinion is not entitled to any weight and, therefore, any error on the ALJ's part in failing to discuss it further was harmless. See Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006) (holding error harmless where it is "inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.").

In light of the ALJ's discussion of the record, Plaintiff's claim that the ALJ was obligated to state whether he accepted or rejected Dr. Keiderling's May 24, 2006 opinion is meritless. In determining that Plaintiff's osteoarthritis and obesity constituted severe impairments (AR 10), the ALJ evidently accepted the treating doctor's diagnosis. As for Plaintiff's subjective complaints noted by Dr. Keiderling, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not credible. (AR 11-12.) And Plaintiff has not challenged the credibility finding. Thus, the doctor's opinion, which is based in large measure on Plaintiff's statements, is not entitled to great weight. See Tommasetti, 533 F.3d at 1041.

Because the ALJ adequately addressed the medical evidence and supported his conclusions, he did not err by failing to specifically discuss the fact that Dr. Keiderling helped Plaintiff obtain a disabled placard from DMV or that he put her on disability for ...


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