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Amanda M. Alcala v. Carolyn W. Colvin

April 15, 2013


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"),*fn1 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.

Administrative Proceedings

The parties are familiar with the procedural facts. [See JS 2]. Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits on October 13, 2009 and October 20, 2009, respectively, alleging that she had been disabled since September 30, 2009. [Administrative Record ("AR") 26, 93-94, 161, 174]. In a June 10, 2011 written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of tachycardia, history of stroke, migraine headaches, and clotting (factor V) deficiency. [AR 28, 34]. The ALJ further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift or carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; occasionally bend, balance, stoop, crawl, and climb; avoid climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds; and avoid unprotected heights and using dangerous equipment. [AR 29-30]. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's RFC did not preclude performance of her past work as an escrow clerk. [AR 33-34]. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff not was disabled at any time through the date of his decision. [AR 26, 34].

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


Treating source opinions

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of her treating physicians, Madhavi Mummaneni, M.D., Amar Shokrae, M.D., and Mike Vasilomanolakis, M.D. [JS 8-13].

On January 5, 2008, plaintiff went to the emergency room at St. Joseph Hospital after experiencing chest pain for the preceding two days following a fall at her home. [AR 418-419]. She was subsequently admitted to the hospital and underwent a CT angiogram of the chest that showed evidence of multiple pulmonary emboli. [AR 419, 692, 705-706]. She was treated with Coumadin*fn2 and discharged three days later with instructions to follow up with Dr. Mummaneni, her treating specialist in hematology and oncology at the Hematology-Oncology Medical Group of Orange County, Inc. [AR 414, 645-649, 651].

Dr. Mummaneni diagnosed plaintiff with hypercoagulable state or factor V Leiden deficiency based on genetic testing.*fn3 He switched plaintiff from Coumadin to Lovenox because she was pregnant. [AR 408, 651, 686, 692-695]. Plaintiff continued to see Dr. Mummaneni every two to four weeks through May 2010. [AR 31, 645-649, 656, 664, 680-682, 685, 688-691, 697, 782-789, 794-797].

In April 2008, plaintiff told Dr. Mummaneni she was feeling "ok" but had noticed an increase in migraine headaches. Plaintiff told Dr. Mummaneni in August 2008 that she had been experiencing occasional shortness of breath and a heavy sensation in her abdomen. [AR 688]. She sought treatment in the emergency room for shortness of breath and chest pain on August 12, 2008. [AR 383-384, 686, 688-689, 870]. A CT scan showed no blood clots at that time. [AR 688].

On October 6, 2008, plaintiff gave birth to her son. [AR 566-568]. On October 10, 2008, she underwent surgery to treat a wound hematoma at the site of her cesarean section. [AR 569-570].

Plaintiff saw Dr. Vasilomanolakis, a cardiologist, at the Community Hospital of Long Beach, every four to six months from November 2007 to October 2009 for her tachycardia and other cardiac problems. [AR 740, 867-871, 875-878, 880-887, 1050-1055]. On February 17, 2009, Dr. Vasilomanolakis noted that plaintiff had missed her "last couple of appointments[,]" but explained that she missed that last one because she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. [AR 869]. In addition, he noted that she underwent a cesarean section on October 6, 2008 and "4 days later, just prior to discharge, she was known to have a sizable incisional hematoma and was rushed back to surgery." [AR 869].

On February 23, 2009, and July 13, 2009, plaintiff reported to Dr. Mummaneni that she was experiencing ...

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