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Pambukchyan v. Astrue

July 27, 2010

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

(Social Security Case)

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. 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 parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified Administrative Record ("AR").

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in failing to give appropriate weight to the treating physicians (JS at 2-14;

2. Whether Defendant erred in determining Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (JS at 15-20); and

3. Whether the ALJ erred in improperly evaluating Plaintiff's credibility (JS at 20-27).

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed.

I. THE ALJ DID NOT ERR IN ASSESSING THE OPINIONS OF PLAINTIFF'S VARIOUS TREATING PHYSICIANS

A. Procedural Background

As indicated by the ALJ in his decision of September 4, 2008 (AR 74-85), Plaintiff has filed several prior applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Her fourth application of June 14, 2001 resulted in denial by an ALJ decision of March 28, 2005. After proceeding unsuccessfully to the Appeals Council, Plaintiff filed suit in District Court concerning that decision. While that case, which was later adjudicated against Plaintiff, was pending, she filed the application which is the subject of this lawsuit. Indeed, Plaintiff filed the underlying application for SSI in this case, alleging an onset date of March 29, 2005, the day after the previous unfavorable decision was issued. (AR 74.)

Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's citation to the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691, 693 (9th Cir. 1988). Under that case, findings made by a previous ALJ as to a plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), education, and work experience will receive some res judicata consideration. A resulting presumption of continuing disability may be rebutted by a claimant if changed circumstances, such as a change in age category, or an increase in severity of impairments, are demonstrated. Plaintiff argues that since the last decision, she attained the age of 50, therefore entering into a new age category, which has been determined to constitute a changed circumstance precluding the application of res judicata (JS at 13); however, Plaintiff does acknowledge that "other issues" in the previous decision may be entitled to some res judicata effect, but can be overcome with new and material evidence. (Id., citing Chavez, 844 F.2d at 694.) Plaintiff believes that she has provided new and additional material evidence from her treating physicians which show both a continuing and worsening of her impairments. For the reasons to be set forth, the Court disagrees.

B. Discussion

In his decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the RFC to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for six out of eight hours; and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Certain postural and related limitations were imposed, and as to mental limitations, it was found that Plaintiff can perform ...


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