United States District Court, E.D. California
ANTHONY J. MILLS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act"). In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from September 14, 2008, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 16.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19.) No optional reply brief was filed by plaintiff.
After carefully considering the entire record and the parties' briefing, the court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and enters judgment for the Commissioner.
Plaintiff was born on January 19, 1987, obtained a GED, is able to communicate in English, and previously worked primarily as a welder and metal fabricator. (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 17, 24, 48-51.) At the age of 22, plaintiff applied for DIB on July 13, 2009, and SSI on August 25, 2009, alleging that he was unable to work as of September 14, 2008, due to diabetes and a knee injury. (AT 60-63, 162, 164, 175.) On November 17, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 64-67.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, that determination was affirmed on May 26, 2010. (AT 69-73.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on February 15, 2011, and at which plaintiff, represented by a non-attorney representative, testified. (AT 44-59.) At that time, the ALJ referred plaintiff for a further ophthalmology consultative examination (AT 58-59), and a supplemental hearing was conducted on July 29, 2011. (AT 31-43.)
In a decision dated September 21, 2011, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from September 14, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 11-25.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on March 25, 2013. (AT 1-5.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on May 7, 2013, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)
II. ISSUES PRESENTED
In this court, plaintiff raises the sole issue of whether the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. David Short.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari , 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue , 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).
A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings
The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework. As an initial matter, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act for purposes of DIB through June 30, 2010. (AT 13.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 14, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, intermittent right knee strain, and intermittent acute infections. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 17.)
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ...