United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
GABRIEL A. MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
STEPHEN J. HILLMAN, 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 Insurance Benefits. 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 authorized the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and the defendant have filed their pleadings (Complaint with Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint; Defendant's Brief); and the defendant has filed the certified transcript of the record. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.
On March 16, 2010, plaintiff Gabriel A. Martinez filed an application for a period of disability or Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging an inability to work since March 6, 2010 due to lumbar radiculopathy and back pain (See Administrative Record ["AR"] 14, 125-26). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on September 22, 2010 and upon consideration on January 7, 2011 (AR 14, 67, 71). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on March 14, 2011, which was held on April 12, 2012 (AR 14, 27, 82-83). On May 22, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (AR 22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 1). Plaintiff commenced this civil action seeking judicial review of his case.
A. The ALJ Properly Evaluated the Medical Opinions on the Record
The ALJ considered the medical opinions on the record and made an RFC finding in accordance with the evidence presented to him. The ALJ considered the opinions of treating physicians Dr. Herron, Dr. Monroy, Dr. Dandillaya, Dr. Gupta, Dr. Gonzalez, and Dr. Mazzone, medical examiner Dr. Schienberg, examining orthopedist Dr. Van Kirk, and state agency medical consultant Dr. Bobba (AR 17-20).
Dr. Mazzone is a primary treating physician who treated Plaintiff for chronic low back pain in 2011 and 2012. Dr. Mazzone diagnosed Plaintiff with lumbar strain on February 21, 2011 and placed him on temporary disability for four months (AR 296-98). Dr. Mazzone conducted a functional capacity assessment in April of 2012 and found that Plaintiff could perform sedentary work where he could lift or carry up to 10 pounds frequently and sit, stand, or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday (AR 300). The report also concluded that Plaintiff's condition would pose a disruption of 30 to 40 hours per month to a regular work schedule (AR 300).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in discounting Dr. Mazzone's findings as to the likely disruption to the Plaintiff's work schedule. Defendant argues that the ALJ reasonably relied on the more detailed and well-supported opinions of the other treating and examining physicians instead of the conclusory and unsupported finding of Dr. Mazzone. Defendant asserts that Dr. Mazzone failed to provide objective medical support for his finding or to cite supporting evidence, so the ALJ rejected the finding as "conclusory and brief and unsupported by clinical findings." See Tonapetyan v. Halter , 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, Defendant claims that Dr. Mazzone's work disruption finding is inconsistent with his 2011 report and with the findings of the other treating physicians concluding that Plaintiff was able to perform at least sedentary work. Therefore, the ALJ is responsible for resolving the inconsistency between incongruent opinions of treating physicians. See Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 1995).
An ALJ is "not bound by an expert medical opinion on the ultimate question of disability." Tommasetti v. Astrue , 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008). Moreover, an ALJ can reasonably reject a medical opinion that conflicts with findings of other treating physicians regarding a claimant's work-related limitations as long as the ALJ provides specific and legitimate reasons for disregarding the opinion. See Matney v. Sullivan , 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992). However, an ALJ can reject a treating physician's opinion for being conclusory, brief, and not supported by clinical findings. Id.
Here, the ALJ correctly evaluated Dr. Mazzone's functional capacity assessment report and his finding regarding the likely disruption to Plaintiff's potential work schedule. The ALJ identified specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in rejecting Dr. Mazzone's opinion. The finding, which stated that Plaintiff's limitation is likely to disrupt a regular work schedule 30 to 40 hours per month, was conclusory, consisted of a short phrase, and lacked objective medical support. Dr. Mazzone's earlier (2011) findings that Plaintiff can lift or carry 10 pounds frequently and sit, stand, or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday is inconsistent with the 2012 assertion that Plaintiff cannot sustain a work schedule requiring light exertion.
Additionally, Plaintiff's other treating physicians Dr. Herron, Dr. Monroy, Dr. Dandillaya, Dr. Gupta, and Dr. Gonzalez did not find multiple marked functional limitations and sufficiently severe impairments to amount to a disability (AR 18). Dr. Gonzalez asserted that Plaintiff could perform work of light exertion including lifting or carrying up to 20 pounds frequently and sitting, standing, or walking up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday (AR 17, 268). Dr. Gupta did not impose any functional limitations on the Plaintiff (AR 17, 285-90). Dr. Herron only precluded the Plaintiff from doing work requiring heavy exertion (AR 17, 240). Hence, it was reasonable for the ALJ to consider the opinions of other treating physicians, and Dr. Mazzone's own previous findings, to conclude that Dr. Mazzone's assertion as to the likely disruption to Plaintiff's regular work is inconsistent with the record as a whole.
B. The ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Credibility
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his credibility and assess his subjective complaints. However, Defendant argues that the ALJ ...