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Ronnie J. Strait v. Michael J. Astrue

April 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Oswald Parada United States Magistrate Judge


The Court now rules as follows with respect to the disputed issue listed in *fn1 the Joint Stipulation ("JS").*fn2


As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the sole disputed issue that Plaintiff raises as the ground for reversal and/or remand is whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly considered the medical evidence as contained in the treating opinion from Susan Yoshino, M.D. (JS at 4.)


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).


A. The ALJ's Findings.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: gout, back pain, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, depressive disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 14.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work not involving more than simple, repetitive tasks, with no more than limited contact with the public. (Id. at 19, 22.)

Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") to determine the extent to which Plaintiff's limitations eroded the unskilled medium occupational base, the ALJ asked the VE whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id. at 24.) Based on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform the requirements of representative unskilled/medium work occupations such as Hand Packer (Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") 920.587-018) and Cleaner/Janitor (DOT 381.687-018). (Id.)

B. Treating Physician.

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ rejected the opinion of Dr. Yoshino, who treated Plaintiff at the Venice Family Clinic "every 1-2 months since May 2006," without providing a "legally sufficient rationale." (JS at 5-8.) Specifically, in a "Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" dated September 29, 2008, Dr. Yoshino diagnosed Plaintiff with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and gout, and noted symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, stomach pain, and foot numbness. (AR at 373.) Dr. Yoshino also noted that Plaintiff's depression and anxiety affected his physical condition. (Id. at 374.) Based on these impairments and symptoms, Dr. Yoshino opined that Plaintiff had the following limitations on his ability to work: Plaintiff was capable of "performing low stress" work; Plaintiff could neither sit nor stand for more than thirty minutes at a time; Plaintiff could occasionally lift/carry ten pounds or less, rarely lift/carry twenty pounds, and never lift/carry fifty pounds; Plaintiff had mild limitations in doing repetitive reaching, handling, or fingering; and Plaintiff likely would be absent from work "about 3 days per month" due to his impairments. (Id. at 374-76.)

With respect to Dr. Yoshino's opinion, the ALJ stated:

Although, as noted above, treating physician, Dr. Yoshin [sic], effectively assessed the claimant as unable to sustain even sedentary level exertional activity, the undersigned finds that the medical findings submitted by this physician and otherwise documented in the record do not support a finding that the claimant's medical condition is of disabling severity, nor does the treating physician provide an assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity which is compatible with the record as a whole. As noted above, medical records from Dr. Yoshin's [sic] clinic reflect little more than routine medical care and monitoring of the claimant's condition. There is no indication Dr. Yoshin [sic] ever referred the claimant for intensive treatment, physical therapy, inpatient care, etc. and the functional limitations Dr. Yoshin [sic] cites are inconsistent with the Venice Clinic records, which fail to cite such complaints or restrictions or reflect clinical findings consistent with the limitations assessed, and the claimant's performance during Dr. Lim's examination, in which, but for some slightly diminished lumbar spine motion, the claimant retained full mobility and neurological functioning. Therefore, the treating physician appears to have taken the claimant's subjective allegations at face value and merely reiterated those allegations in her reports and when making her assertions regarding the claimant's ability to work. Her assertions ...

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