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Glenda Margarita Villasenor v. Michael J. Astrue

March 21, 2012


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


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 ("SSI") benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue. Plaintiff filed a separate document containing her reply to defendant's contentions.

Administrative Proceedings

Plaintiff, then aged 38, filed her applications for benefits on November 29, 2007 alleging that she had been disabled since February 1, 2007. [JS 2; Administrative Record ("AR") 108-110, 113-116]. In a written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") found that plaintiff had a severe impairments consisting of status post multiple laminectomies, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and residual chronic low back pain, but that she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's RFC did not preclude her from performing her past relevant work as an apartment manager. Therefore, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled at any time through the date of his decision. [AR 52-59].

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)).


Treating source opinion

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of her treating orthopedist, Divakar Krishnareddy, M.D.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Krishnareddy at Serra Community Medical Clinic ("Serra Medical") in Sun Valley, California from February 2007 through the date of the hearing in January 2010. [AR 28-29, 264-276]. During that period plaintiff also received treatment at Universal Care Medical Group ("Universal Care") in Long Beach, California. [AR 159-161, 179-180, 189-191, 201-233, 277-285].

Beginning in early 2007 plaintiff was seen at Universal Care for complaints of back pain. She was prescribed medication, including the narcotic pain reliever Vicodin (hydrocodone with acetaminophen). [AR 214-223].

The record does not contain a progress note from plaintiff's initial visit to Dr. Krishnareddy in February 2007. On September 12, 2007, Dr. Krishnareddy saw plaintiff for complaints of constant back pain. He concluded that she needed a lumbar spine MRI, and he prescribed Ambien, a sleep aid. It was noted that plaintiff was a Medi-Cal patient. [AR 275-276].

Plaintiff was seen at Universal Care for treatment of back pain several times between September 26, 2007 and December 4, 2007. [AR 202-211]. Abnormal findings included positive straight leg raising test, reduced lumbar flexion, and tenderness at L4-5 and L5-S1. Diagnoses of coccydynia (tailbone pain), disc herniation, and disc disease were noted. [AR 58, 203-204, 208]. A November 2007 lumbar spine bone scan yielded an impression of lower lumbar and degenerative joint disease. [AR 201]. Along with Vicodin, plaintiff was prescribed Toradol (ketoralac), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; Cymbalta, an anti-depressant; and Robaxin (methocarbamol) a muscle relaxant. [AR 202-211].

A progress note from Universal Care dated February 26, 2008 indicated that plaintiff had been "unable ...

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