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Garabed Boghossian v. Michael J. Astrue

November 14, 2011

GARABED BOGHOSSIAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Sheri Pym United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed a complaint on October 27, 2010, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Both plaintiff and defendant consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

The parties raise one disputed issue: whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), in determining plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), improperly disregarded or discounted the opinion of the treating physician, psychiatrist Lukas Alexanian, M.D., in favor of a consultative examiner's opinion, without appropriate justification.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the administrative record ("AR"), the court concludes that, as detailed herein, substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision is lacking. Specifically, the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the treating psychiatrist's opinion. The court therefore reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Garabed Boghossian was 44 years old when he applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on January 8, 2009. AR 486, 491. He alleged disability beginning January 6, 2008. Id. at 486, 491. On April 7, 2009, the Commissioner denied the applications for benefits. Id. at 454-59. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on May 5, 2009. Id. at 462.

On March 16, 2010, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 425-51. The ALJ also heard testimony from Rheta Baron King, an impartial vocational expert ("VE"). Id. at 447-50.

On March 24, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for benefits. Id. at 411-23. The ALJ applied the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process. See Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 82-62; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007).

The ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 6, 2008, the alleged onset date. AR 416.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from a number of severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, major depression disorder, panic disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. Further, plaintiff suffered from the non-severe physical impairments of obesity and hypertension. Id. at 417.

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in the Social Security Regulations. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. As to plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ found that they did not meet the listing of 12.04 ...


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