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Jackson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 30, 2013

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


VICTOR B. KENTON, Magistrate Judge.

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 Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") provided specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion of the treating physician; and
2. Whether the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject Plaintiff's subjective complaints.

(AR at 4.)

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed and the matter remanded.



Plaintiff filed her Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on June 15, 2009, alleging an onset date of February 28, 2009, due to high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") and asthma. (AR 24.) Her claim was denied administratively and after she received the hearing she requested from the ALJ, an unfavorable Decision issued (AR 24-31), which is the basis for this lawsuit.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") would enable her to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with limitations of only occasional postural activities, no climbing of ladders, avoidance of concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, extremes in temperature, and hazards. (AR 28.)

The ALJ was well aware of Plaintiff's history of hypertension and treatment for that condition, and was aware that she had suffered a heart attack in July 2008. Indeed, the ALJ referenced medical records which reflect treatment that predates the alleged onset date. (See, e.g., AR 29: "The claimant's medical records show that claimant repeatedly reported chest pain.") In so stating, the ALJ referenced medical treatment records dating from July 2008 to November 2008 (AR 260-318), July 28, 2008 to April 17, 2009 (AR 350-408), June 12, 2007 to October 13, 2010 (AR 430-546), and then September 23, 2010 to October 2, 2010 (AR 581-591). The ALJ noted that after Plaintiff was hospitalized in July 2008 for a myocardial infarction, a catheterization was attempted but discontinued. (AR 29.) Thus, it is clear that the ALJ considered pre-onset date medical records in making a determination of whether Plaintiff is disabled.

In determining Plaintiff's RFC, however, the ALJ discussed only three sources: her treating physician, Dr. Hussain; a consultative examiner, Dr. Benrazavi; and the State Agency non-examining physician. (AR 29-30.) With regard to the treating physician, the ALJ only discussed a "Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" (AR 547-551), which Dr. Hussain completed. (See Discussion at AR 29.) The ALJ provided only two articulated reasons for rejecting Dr. Hussain's opinion: first, because it is not "consistent with or supported by substantial medical evidence of record, " and second, that it is based only on Plaintiff's subjective allegations without any objective assessment of the veracity of those complaints. (AR 30.) In articulating these reasons, the ALJ' Decision runs directly against Ninth Circuit law which cautions against reliance on such generalizations, and, indeed rejects them as being adequate to sustain a decision. See Pinto v. Massanari , 249 F.3d 840, 847-48 (9th Cir. 2001). "To say that medical opinions are not supported by sufficient objective findings or are contrary to the preponderant conclusions mandated by the objective findings does not achieve the level of specificity our prior cases have required. The ALJ must do more than offer than his conclusions. He must set forth his own interpretations and explain why they, rather than the doctor's, are correct." See Embry v. Bowen , 849 F.2d 418, 421-422 (9th Cir. 1988).

The lack of specificity articulated in the Decision becomes even more apparent when one examines the longitudinal record of Plaintiff's hypertension, COPD, and other diseases. Neither party comments on a February 11, 2008 internal medicine consultation report prepared by Dr. Tamiry. (AR 247-255.) This examination and report predated Plaintiff's heart attack, but Plaintiff was clearly suffering from hypertension at the time, and Dr. Tamiry advised that her functional capacity would permit the exertion required of light work only "if the blood pressure is under reasonable control, ..." (AR 254.) What is clear from a review of this record is that, despite years of medications, which have been ...

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