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Moruzzi v. Astrue

September 15, 2010

DEBRA MORUZZI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application 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

Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on September 29, 2006 due to major depressive disorder, severe; anxiety; hypothyroidism; arthritis; osteoarthritis of the right foot; bone spurs; fatigue; chronic pain; and obesity. [JS 2; Administrative Record ("AR") 6]. In a December 2008 written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") concluded that plaintiff was not disabled because she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. [JS 2; AR 6-12].

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. Social 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 Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999)).

Discussion

Treating psychiatrist

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in disregarding the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Jesse R. Devera, M.D. [See JS 3-9].

Where the opinion of a treating or examining physician is uncontroverted, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons, supported by substantial evidence in the record, for rejecting it. If contradicted by that of another doctor, a treating or examining source opinion may be rejected for specific and legitimate reasons that are based on substantial evidence in the record. Batson v. Comm'r of Social Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1148-49 (9th Cir. 2001); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-831 (9th Cir. 1995).

The record indicates that plaintiff began seeing Dr. Devera at Lucerne Valley Counseling, a San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health ("County Behavioral Health") clinic, in May 2005. Her diagnosis was major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, without psychotic features. Dr. Devera prescribed antidepressant medications, including Lexapro and Cymbalta. [AR 37-38, 229-234, 255-266, 269-276, 374-384, 425-448].

In June 2005, shortly after she started seeing Dr. Devera, plaintiff went to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center ("ARMC") "with suicidal ideas, impaired judgment, hopelessness, anxiety, and irritability." [AR 320; see AR 316-337]. She told the attending physician that she was overwhelmed with depression related to her responsibilities as the adoptive parent of her 3- and 5-year-old grandchildren, the children of her drug-addicted daughter, and as the caretaker of another adult daughter, who was brain-injured and wheelchair-bound. [AR 327-329, 332]. Plaintiff was deemed a danger to herself or others and was involuntarily admitted to ARMC for five days of inpatient care. [AR 9, 327-337, 380].

Plaintiff's discharge summary states that her diagnosis was major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe. The attending physician stated that her mood had been stabilized with medications, and she also had been treated for symptomatic allergies and a urinary tract infection. Plaintiff had participated in group therapy and "did well" with it. She was discharged in "improved" condition, without suicidal ideation or psychosis. She was prescribed Lexapro, Klonopin, Wellbutrin, and Seroquel for her psychiatric condition and was instructed to follow up at a County Behavioral Health clinic [AR 320-321].

In July 2005, plaintiff resumed monthly medication visits with Dr. Devera, and she continued to see him monthly until December 2007. [See AR 37-38, 229-234, 255-266, 269-276, 374-384, 425-448]. In December 2007, Dr. Devera completed a "Work Capacity Evaluation (Mental)" checklist form indicating that plaintiff had "moderate" or "marked" limitations ...


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