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Bacon v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 11, 2014



JAY C. GANDHI, Magistrate Judge.

Brian Allen Bacon ("Plaintiff") challenges the Social Security Commissioner's ("Defendant") decision denying his application for disability benefits. Two issues are presented for decision here:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") assigned appropriate weight to Plaintiff's treating physicians, Drs. Robert Yang and Glenn Niegas, ( see Joint Stip. at 5-11); and

2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility, ( see id. at 20-24).

The Court addresses, and rejects, Plaintiff's contentions below.

A. The ALJ Assigned Proper Weight to Plaintiff's Treating Physicians

Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ improperly weighted the opinions of his treating physicians, Drs. Yang and Niegas. ( See Joint Stip. at 5-11.)

"Although a treating physician's opinion is generally afforded the greatest weight in disability cases, it is not binding on an ALJ with respect to the existence of an impairment or the ultimate determination of disability." Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001); see Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 600 (9th Cir. 1999) ("[T]he treating physician's opinion is not necessarily conclusive as to either a physical condition or the ultimate issue of disability.").

An ALJ may discount the treating physician's opinion when it is not supported by objective evidence. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997). "When evidence in the record contradicts the opinion of a treating physician, the ALJ must present specific and legitimate reasons' for discounting the treating physician's opinion, supported by substantial evidence." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1228 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995)).

1. Dr. Yang's Opinion

The Court is persuaded that the ALJ properly rejected the opinion of Dr. Yang. Three reasons guide this determination.

First, the ALJ properly found that "physical examinations are entirely inconsistent with [Dr. Yang's] disabling functional capacity assessment." (Administrative Record ("AR") at 25); see Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1339-40 (9th Cir. 1988) (ALJ properly rejected treating opinion as unsupported by medical findings, personal observations, or test reports). For example, a January 2011 physical examination revealed 5/5 motor strength, intact sensation, and normal neurological examination. (AR at 559.) Imaging of the lumbar spine revealed no spinal canal stenosis. ( Id. ) Dr. William Hill, who saw Plaintiff on referral from Dr. Yang, reported similar findings. In particular, Plaintiff had good range of motion in the back, some pain on flexion and extension, and no muscle spasm. ( Id. at 24, 328.) Plaintiff also had good range of motion in the lower extremities, no focal atrophy, and negative straight leg raising test to 90 degrees, indicating no nerve root irritation. ( Id. ) Moreover, the ALJ noted that none of Dr. Yang's treatment records documented muscle weakness, sensory deficits, nerve root impingement, or use of an assistive device. ( See generally id. at 25, 316-39, 412-33.)

Second, the ALJ properly observed that Plaintiff's activities of daily living undermine the functional limitations assessed by Dr. Yang. ( Id. at 25.) Indeed, Plaintiff "chauffeur[ed] people around from his church 4-5 hours a day, every day." ( Compare id. at 69-70 (detailing Plaintiff's driving duties) with id. at 333 (Dr. Yang's opinion that Plaintiff is unable to sit for a "prolonged period of time"). This apparent inconsistency constitutes a "specific and legitimate reason" for discrediting Dr. Yang. See Lester, 81 F.3d at 830 (quoting Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)).

Third, the ALJ properly rejected Dr. Yang's assessment as "inconsistent with the totality of the medical evidence" and other medical source opinions in the record. (AR at 25); see Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th Cir. 2004) ("it was permissible for the ALJ to give [treating opinion] minimal evidentiary weight, in light of the objective medical evidence and the opinions and observations of other doctors."). As the ALJ noted, examining physician Dr. Boeck found that Plaintiff was capable of lifting up to 20 pounds occasionally and sitting for 6 hours in a workday. (AR at 25, 345.) State ...

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