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Gordon H. Schulz v. Carolyn W. Colvin

April 16, 2013

GORDON H. SCHULZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

I. PROCEEDINGS

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insured Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. 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. Plaintiff and defendant have filed their pleadings and memorandums of points and authorities. The defendant has filed the certified administrative record (AR). After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

II. BACKGROUND

On January 16, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insured Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging an onset of disability on February 29, 2008. Plaintiff's application was denied on April 21, 2009 and denied upon reconsideration on July 13, 2009. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing which was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on July 2, 2010. The ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for DIB. The Appeals Council denied review of the decision on May 1, 2012.

Plaintiff filed this action making two challenges to the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff contends that (1) the ALJ failed to articulate specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the treating physician's opinions; and (2) the ALJ failed to articulate clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's testimony. Each of plaintiff's contentions will be addressed in turn.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. §405, this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if (1) the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used proper legal standards. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), but "less than a preponderance." Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). This Court cannot disturb findings if those findings are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence that exists may support plaintiff's claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973). Cert. denied, Torsk v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 933 (1974); Harvey v. Richardson, 451 F.2d 589, 590 (9th Cir. 1971).

B. ISSUE NO. 1: The ALJ Provided Specific and Legitimate Reasons for Rejecting the Treating Physician's Opinion

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to articulate specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the treating physician's opinions. In response, defendant contends that the ALJ provided a detailed and thorough summary of the medical evidence and set forth specific and valid reasons for rejecting the treating physician's opinions.

A treating physician's opinion is entitled to greater weight than that of an examining physician. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1230 (9th Cir. 1987)); 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(1). "The treating physician's opinion is not, however, necessarily conclusive as to either a physical condition or the ultimate issue of disability." Magallanes, supra (citing Rodriguez v. Bowen, 876 F.2d 759, 761-62 n. 7 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the ALJ rejects the treating physician's opinion, the ALJ must provide specific, legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence in the record. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007); Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008).

Here, the ALJ found that plaintiff has severe medically determinable impairments involving the musculoskeletal and lymphatic systems. He further found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light exertion. He is able to sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours of an 8 hour work day, and can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop kneel crouch, and crawl. He is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (AR 32-33).

Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Steiger, diagnosed plaintiff with musculoligamentous sprain of the cervical spine with radiculitus, musculoligamentous sprain of the lumbar spine with lower extremity radiculitis, overuse syndrome of the upper extremities, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 35, 213). Dr. Steiger also indicated that plaintiff had permanent restrictions from prolonged gripping, pushing, pulling or exposure to vibration with the hands; and no repetitive forceful use of the hands in gripping, pushing or pulling. Dr. Steiger stated that due to the cervical ...


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