United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Michelle Kredell ("Plaintiff") appeals the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits. On appeal, the Court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. The decision of the Commissioner is therefore reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning April 30, 2007. Administrative Record ("AR") 173-78. After Plaintiff's application was denied, she requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 132-33. Hearings were held on April 18, May 2, and September 19, 2011, at which Plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). AR 77-120. Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at the hearings. AR 79, 88, 113. After the hearing the ALJ issued a ruling in which she found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical spondylosis; right shoulder impingement (commonly called "frozen shoulder"); degenerative spurring of the lumbar spine; and type II diabetes. AR 25. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with several additional functional limitations. AR 26. The ALJ then determined, based on the VE's testimony, that Plaintiff was not disabled because she was still capable of performing her past relevant work as an office manager and executive assistant. AR 29.
The parties dispute whether the ALJ erred in: (1) failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician and not fully crediting the opinion of the consultative examining physician; (2) assessing Plaintiff's credibility; (3) assessing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"); and (4) determining that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work. See Joint Stipulation ("JS") at 2.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter , 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, " the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Joni Jordan. JS at 3-5. An ALJ should generally give more weight to a treating physician's opinion than to opinions from non-treating sources. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); Lester v. Chater , 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996). The ALJ must give specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting a treating physician's opinion in favor of a non-treating physician's contradictory opinion. Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007); Lester , 81 F.3d at 830. However, "[t]he ALJ need not accept the opinion of any physician, including a treating physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings." Thomas v. Barnhart , 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); accord Tonapetyan v. Halter , 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). Among the factors to be considered by the adjudicator in determining the weight to give a medical opinion are the "[l]ength ...