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Caruso v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 29, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


STEPHEN J. HILLMAN, Magistrate Judge.


This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C § 1381 et seq., and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). 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 this Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. Plaintiff and Defendant have filed their pleadings and Defendant has filed a certified transcript of the record ("AR"). After reviewing this matter, this Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.


In the present case, Plaintiff Cheryl Caruso ("Plaintiff") filed applications for SSI and DIB on November 7, 2008, claiming an inability to work since June 1, 2003. AR 139-145. Plaintiff's applications were both denied on August 28, 2009. AR 77-80. Upon Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the Social Security Administration reviewed the record and rendered an adverse decision. AR 82-86. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on March 23, 2011. AR 88. Following the hearing, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on April 14, 2011, finding that while Plaintiff had severe impairments (hepatitis C, obesity, affective mood disorder, and a history of substance abuse), she was not disabled. AR 19-38. Plaintiff then requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. AR 14-15. Finding "no reason" to review the ALJ's decision, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. AR 1-4.

Plaintiff makes one challenge to the ALJ's decision denying benefits. Plaintiff disagrees with the ALJ's assessment of her residual functional capacity ("RFC") because it is allegedly not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by failing to (1) properly evaluate the relevant medical evidence and (2) properly consider Plaintiff's subjective statements and credibility.


Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to properly assess Plaintiff's RFC because the ALJ did not properly evaluate the medical evidence and did not properly consider Plaintiff's subjective complaints. Defendant responds that the ALJ did not err in considering and evaluating the evidence.

A. Medical Opinion Evidence of Frank Andrews, Ph.D.

In his Decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a range of light work. AR 26. The ALJ's decision was supported by his consideration of the complete medical history in the record. AR 28 (citing 253-501).

Treating psychologist Frank Andrews, Ph.D. completed a form for the New York state disability office on December 2, 2008, stating he had treated Plaintiff from September 2001 to November 2006. AR 29 (citing 269-275). Dr. Andrews opined that Plaintiff's symptoms of "impaired concentration, impaired short-term memory, periods of disorganization, excessive worry, [and] loss of confidence" "seemed to be permanent" as of Plaintiff's last examination on November 27, 2006. AR 270. He reported her mood and affect were depressive. AR 272. He also reported Plaintiff was "moderately to severely impaired as of 11/27/06." AR 273.

"The ALJ may not reject the opinion of a treating physician, even if it is contradicted by the opinions of other doctors, without providing specific and legitimate' reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record." Rollins v. Massanari , 261 F.3d 853, 856 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998)). The weight given a treating physician's opinion depends on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is consistent with other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b)-(d).

The ALJ properly found Dr. Andrews' opinion was entitled to less weight because Dr. Andrews did not have "a longitudinal picture of [Plaintiff's] current condition" when he completed the disability form in 2008, two years after he had last seen her in 2006. AR 30. In addition, the ALJ gave less weight to Dr. Andrews' opinion because Plaintiff's "psychiatric diagnoses appear to have been inextricably intertwined with her abuse of drugs." Id.

Here, the ALJ provided specific and legitimate reasons for giving less weight to Dr. Andrews' opinion. First, because Dr. Andrews formed his opinion two years after last seeing Plaintiff, he did not have a longitudinal picture of her condition. "When the treating source has seen [the claimant] a number of times and long enough to have obtained a longitudinal picture of [claimant's] impairment, we will give the source's opinion more weight than we would give it if it were from a nontreating source." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)(I) (emphasis added). Here, however, less weight was given to Dr. Andrews's opinion than to the opinions of other physicians because the ALJ noted there had been a two-year gap between Plaintiff's 2006 visit and Dr. Andrews' 2008 disability assessment. AR ...

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