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Darlene Kauffman-Scott v. Michael J. Astrue

January 20, 2012


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


(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") properly evaluated the opinion of Dr. Adeyemo;

2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of Dr. Girgis. (JS at 3.)

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.



Plaintiff received a consultative psychiatric evaluation ("CE") through the Department of Social Services. (AR 268-270.) Dr. Adeyemo interviewed Plaintiff concerning her past psychiatric history and past medical history, performed a mental status examination, did a DSM IV diagnosis, and provided a Medical Source Statement. Plaintiff's complaint is that the ALJ failed to adequately account for Dr. Adeyemo's statement in the Medical Source Statement that Plaintiff "may have difficulty with safety and attendance related issues at work because of Depressive and Anxiety symptoms." (JS at 3, AR at 270.) Plaintiff contends that if she is unable to maintain consistent attendance in a full-time job, that would impact her ability to work. Plaintiff thus argues that the ALJ failed in his burden of providing specific and legitimate reasons based on substantial evidence in the record to reject what she contends is this portion of Dr. Adeyemo's diagnostic opinion. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1995).

Before turning to this specific issue, the Court will note that the ALJ's decision (AR 16-26) provided a detailed and specific assessment of Plaintiff's mental state, and how it would affect her ability to perform job tasks. (See AR at 19, 23.) Since Plaintiff does not contend that the ALJ failed to perform the requisite analysis with regard to mental functioning, the Court need not summarize how this was accomplished in his decision.

The first problem with Plaintiff's argument, which she anticipates in her brief, is that this portion of Dr. Adeyemo's Medical Source Statement is not a firm diagnostic opinion, but a statement of possible difficulties ("Claimant may have difficulty ..."). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ should have treated this qualifier as a diagnostic opinion deserving acceptance or rejection for specific and legitimate reasons. But here, the Court agrees with the Commissioner that there really was no opinion to reject. In his Medical Source Statement, Dr. Adeyemo displayed a full capability for distinguishing what can be construed as firm opinions from what might be possibilities. For example, when analyzing the relevant areas of mental functioning, Dr. Adeyemo used clear diagnostic expressions (e.g., "Claimant has mild restrictions ... She has mild impairment ... She is able to ..." (AR 70)).

An ALJ must, of course, evaluate evidence in the record, but is not under an obligation to discuss every bit of evidence; rather, the ALJ's obligation is to explain why significant probative evidence has been rejected. See Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1395 (9th Cir. 1984). Thus, Plaintiff's argument fails right out of the gate because Dr. Adeyemo's qualifier, when contrasted to the firm diagnostic statements he makes in other parts of his opinion, render the former not relevant for consideration by the ALJ. But in any event, reading the ALJ's opinion as a whole, it is clear that he carefully evaluated evidence regarding Plaintiff's depression and anxiety in determining her ability to work. For example, the ALJ made credibility evaluations which cannot be separated from the question of whether Plaintiff's asserted depression or anxiety would be a limiting factor in her ability to work. Further, the ALJ discussed treatment records concerning her mental health during a time that she was seen by Dr. Patel beginning on April 23, 2008. Plaintiff does not contest the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Patel's treatment records, and the ALJ's conclusion that "Dr. Patel appears to rely completely on the Claimant's subjective complaints and history in making his determination." (AR 23.)

With regard to the specific issues of Plaintiff's depression and anxiety, which Plaintiff raises in this issue, the ALJ made the following specific observations in his ...

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