United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANT CAROLN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF, LENNIE HOPKINS
JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.
Lennie Hopkins ("Plaintiff") asserts he is entitled benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the decision denying his applications for benefits, asserting the administrative law judge erred in evaluating the record and assessing the credibility of his complaints. For the reasons set forth below, the administrative decision is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff filed applications for a disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning November 13, 2005. (Doc. 13-3 at 12.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. ) After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before the administrative law judge ("ALJ") on July 19, 2011. ( Id. at 12-23.) The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act, and issued an order denying benefits on June 5, 2012. ( Id. at 12-2013.) Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which denied review of the ALJ's decision on November 13, 2012. ( Id. at 2-3.) Therefore, the ALJ's determination became the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner").
STANDARD OF REVIEW
District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).
Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because "[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).
To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish he is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish his disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). Once a claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant is able to engage in substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).
DETERMINATION OF DISABILITY
To achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f); 416.920 (a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the residual functional capacity to perform to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other work existing in significant numbers at the state and national level. Id. The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion hearing testimony. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 416.927.
A. Medical Evidence
Dr. Roxanne Morse performed a consultative psychological evaluation on January 29, 2009. (Doc. 13-8 at 2.) Plaintiff told Dr. Morse he was disabled because he "ha[d] a defibrillator machine inside of [his] heart, weakness, difficulty lifting over 10 pounds, unable to deal with any stressful situation, depression, [and] rapid loss of weight." ( Id. ) Plaintiff reported that he had been sober "approximately 1 to 2 weeks" from alcohol and "clean from Marijuana and Cocaine for approximately 12 months." ( Id. ) Dr. Morse noted Plaintiff was "able to perform all of the activities of daily living with some limitations on lifting." ( Id. at 3.) Dr. Morse administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale III and Wechsler Memory Scale III tests, and noted that Plaintiff "displayed adequate effort and persistence." ( Id. ) According to Dr. Morse, the test results showed he had "difficulties with short-term memory, especially recall." ( Id. at 4.) Dr. Morse observed:
[T]he claimant was able to understand, remember, and carryout simple instructions. He would have moderate to marked difficulty with detailed and complex instructions. The claimant was able to maintain attention and concentration. The claimant displayed pace and persistence for the duration of the evaluation.
He is likely to perform optimally in a work environment requiring simple, repetitive tasks. This is especially true given his difficulties with short-term memory.
( Id. at 5.) Further, Dr. Morse opined that Plaintiff's "ability to interact with the public, supervisors, and coworkers appears to be adequate." ( Id. )
On November 18, 2009, Plaintiff was treated at Doctors Medical Center for right knee pain following "an altercation with an unknown assailant." (Doc. 13-8 at 118; Doc. 13-11 at 24.) Plaintiff was able to walk, but "complain[ed] of worsening pain with movement." (Doc. 13-8 at 119; Doc. 13-11 at 25.) An x-ray of his right knee showed "[m]inimal degenerative change" without "evidence of fracture or bony destructive lesion." ( Id. )
On March 10, 2010, Dr. Kamath opined that Plaintiff "would do very well in situations which require him to be sitting in place such as a clerical position in his line of work as a security guard which also involves..., locking of doors." (Doc. 13-8 at 44-45.) Dr. Kamath explained that he "[w]ould not recommend work that requires prolonged standing, fast walking, running or climbing up and down stairs of more than 1 flight for long periods of time." ( Id. )
Dr. Dat Do noted Plaintiff was stable and denied any chest pain on April 20, 2010. (Doc. 13-10 at 4.) Plaintiff reported having "shortness of breath with walking less than a block, " and Dr. Do "encouraged [Plaintiff] to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes a day." ( Id. at 4, 6.)
Dr. Murillo completed a psychiatric review technique and mental residual functional capacity assessment on October 4, 2010. (Doc. 13-8 at 54-70.) Dr. Murillo noted Plaintiff had a full scale IQ score of 74 and was mentally retarded. ( Id. at 57.) Dr. Murillo indicated Plaintiff had mild restrictions of activities of daily living, and mild difficulties maintaining social functioning, as well as moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. ( Id. at 62.) Dr. Murillo opined Plaintiff was "not significantly limited" with the ability to understand, remember, and carry out very short and simple instructions; to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; and all areas of social interaction. ( Id. at 65-66.) Therefore, Dr. Murillo opined Plaintiff was able to perform simple, repetitive tasks. ( Id. at 70.)
On October 5, 2010, Dr. Lydia Kiger completed a physical residual functional capacity assessment. (Doc. 13-8 at 71-75.) Dr. Kiger opined Plaintiff was able to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently, stand at least two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. ( Id. at 72.) However, she believed Plaintiff "must periodically alternate sitting and standing to relieve pain and discomfort, " as the ALJ determined in Plaintiff's prior application for benefits. ( Id. ) Further, Dr. Kiger opined Plaintiff was able to frequently balance and crouch; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, and crawl; and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. ( Id. at 73.)
On October 20, 2010, Dr. Do noted Plaintiff was "stable from a cardiac standpoint." (Doc. 13-8 at 104.) Dr. Do noted Plaintiff "complain[ed] of shortness of breath with walking less than a block, " and that Plaintiff reported he was "still trying to apply for disability." ( Id. at 104.) Dr. Do encouraged Plaintiff "to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes a day" and "to be compliant with low sodium, low fat and cholesterol diet." ( Id. at 106.)
Dr. Do completed a residual functional capacity questionnaire on December 28, 2010. (Doc. 13-9 at 32-33.) Dr. Do noted Plaintiff was treated at his clinic every three months for cardiomyopathy, and opined Plaintiff's symptoms would "constantly" interfere with his ability to concentrate sufficiently to perform simple and repetitive tasks. ( Id. at 32.) Dr. Do indicated Plaintiff was able to sit, stand, or walk for 15 minutes at one time; sit a total of three hours in an eight-hour day, stand/walk a total of three hours in an eight-hour day; and walk one city block without pain. ( Id. ) Further, Dr. Do opined Plaintiff would need to take unscheduled breaks every one to two hours. ( Id. ) Dr. Do believed Plaintiff could lift and carry less than ten pounds occasionally, and never more than ten pounds. ( Id. at 33.)
Dr. Josephine Baisac, Plaintiff's treating neurologist, completed a residual functional capacity assessment on January 7, 2011. (Doc. 13-9 at 38-39.) She indicated Plaintiff had pain in both legs, postural dizziness, exertional fatigue, depression, and anxiety. ( Id. ) Dr. Baisac opined Plaintiff was able to walk less than three blocks, sit thirty minutes at one time and one hour total in an eight-hour day, as well as stand/walk thirty minutes at one time and one hour in an eight-hour day. ( Id. at 38.) She believed Plaintiff would need an unscheduled fifteen-minute break each hour. ( Id. ) Further, Dr. Baisac opined Plaintiff was able to grasp, reach, and perform fine manipulation with each arm less than 50 percent of an eight-hour day. ( Id. )
Dr. Matus opined Plaintiff suffered from an organic mental disorder and an affective disorder on January 10, 2011. (Doc. 13-9 at 40.) Dr. Matus determined Plaintiff had mild restrictions in his activities of daily living; no difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. ( Id. at 50.) According to Dr. Matus, Plaintiff was "not significantly limited" with his ability to understand, remember, and carry out very short and simple instructions. ( Id. at 54.) Dr. Matus observed that there was no evidence that Plaintiff was limited with his ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them, but determined Plaintiff was "moderately limited" with his ability to interact with the general public and get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. ( Id. at 54-55.) Dr. Matus determined Plaintiff's "[p]sychaitric impairment is severe, but no so severe that [he] is incapable of any work." ( Id. at 56.) Dr. Matus concluded Plaintiff was "capable of performing SRT with limited public contact." ( Id. )
Dr. Ian Ocrant reviewed the medical evidence on January 5, 2011, and affirmed the residual functional capacity assessment by Dr. Kiger. (Doc. 13-9 at 79.)
On January 7, 2011, Dr. Baisac noted Plaintiff visited her office "to have his disability papers again be resubmitted." (Doc. 13-9 at 87.) Plaintiff reported that he "was on training as a security guard but ha[d] not found a consistent job." ( Id. )
Dr. Do noted Plaintiff denied having chest pain, and his symptoms were "stable" on March 22, 2011. (Doc. 13-9 at 82.) Plaintiff reported he "ha[d] not been able to find a job that is suitable, " and was trying to apply for disability. ( Id. at 83.) Dr. Do believed ...