United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division
CYNTHIA A. PYLE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
ANDREW J. WISTRICH, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.
The procedural facts are summarized in the joint stipulation. [JS 2-3]. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on September 21, 2009 alleging that she had been disabled since November 15, 2007 due to complex regional pain syndrome that originated in her upper extremities and eventually involved her entire body; depression; fatigue; and bilateral carpal, radial, and cubital tunnel syndrome, status post-surgery. [JS 2; Administrative Record ("AR") 29-37, 163]. In a written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") concluded that plaintiff was not disabled because she retained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a general office worker and receptionist. [AR 36-37].
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 ALTs 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)).
Medical opinion evidence
Treating physician's opinion
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of her treating physician, John Dimowo, M.D., in favor of the opinion of the nonexamining medical expert, Steven Gerber, M.D. [JS 4-24].
The ALJ found that plaintiff, then 45 years old, had severe impairments consisting of complex regional pain syndrome ("CRPS"); bilateral carpal tunnel release, radial release, and cubital tunnel release surgeries; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. [AR 31]. Based on his evaluation of the medical evidence and plaintiff's subjective symptoms, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work that did not require constant, repetitive manipulative tasks bilaterally. [AR 32-36].
CRPS, also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome ("RSDS" or "RSD"), refers to "a unique clinical syndrome" that may develop following even a minor injury to bone or soft tissue, most often following trauma to a single extremity. It may also be precipitated by surgical procedures, drug exposure, stroke with hemiplegia, and cervical spondylosis. Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 03-02p, 2003 WL 22399117, at *1.
Many individuals with CRPS are between 18 and 49 years old. SSR 03-02p, 2003 WL 22399117, at *8. The "most common acute clinical manifestations" of CRPS
include complaints of intense pain and findings indicative of autonomic dysfunction at the site of the precipitating trauma. Later, spontaneously occurring pain may be associated with abnormalities in the affected region involving the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and bone. It is characteristic of this syndrome that the degree of pain ...