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Tofte v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

August 26, 2014

DONALD LUDVIG TOFTE, Plaintiff,
v.
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 authorizes 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. They have also filed Briefs (individually "Plaintiff's Brief" and "Defendant's Brief"), and the defendant has filed a certified Administrative Record. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the Decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff Donald Ludvig Tofte Jr. is a 51 year-old male who has filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (See Administrative Record ["AR"] 124-125). The application was denied by the Commissioner initially and again upon reconsideration. On September 26, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a Partially Favorable Decision for the plaintiff, although the application was ultimately denied. (See AR 49-50).

Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's Decision by alleging a failure to properly consider the testimony of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Ganta. Specifically, plaintiff argues that improper weight was given to Dr. Ganta's testimony and asserts that the ALJ erred by rejecting it as having low probative value.

II. DISCUSSION

It is well settled that a treating physician's opinion is entitled to greater weight than that of an examining physician. Magallanes v. Bowen , 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989), citing Sprague v. Bowen , 812 F.2d 1226, 1230 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the treating physician's opinion is not "necessarily conclusive as to either a physical condition or the ultimate issue of disability." Magallanes v. Bowen , 881 F.2d at 751, citing Rodriguez v. Bowen , 876 F.2d 759, 761-62 n.7 (9th Cir. 1989). The weight given to a treating physician's opinion depends on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is consistent with other evidence in the records. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 (2004). When a non-treating physician's opinion contradicts that of the treating physician - but is not based on independent clinical findings, or rests on clinical findings also considered by the treating physician - the treating physician's opinion may be rejected only if the ALJ gives "specific, legitimate reasons for doing so that are based on substantial evidence in the record." Morgan v. Apfel, 99 D.A.R. 1855, 1857 (9th Cir. (Or.) Feb. 25, 1999).

In determining plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity, the ALJ considered medical evaluations conducted by various doctors, including the plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Ganta. The ALJ's findings concerning Dr. Ganta's evaluations in relevant part were:

Dr. Ganta opined the claimant is unable to do his regular work as a truck driver and should be considered permanently disabled... Dr. Ganta also assessed the following limitations: lift and carry less than 10 pounds; stand, walk, and sit for less than two hours a day; occasionally twist, stoop, crouch, climb stairs, and climb ladders; limited reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, and pushing or pulling; and avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, noise, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and hazards.

(See AR 47).

In rejecting Dr. Ganta's opinion, the ALJ stated the following:

I give little weight to Dr. Ganta's opinion because his opinion is too restrictive in light of the objective evidence of record. Furthermore, the checklist-style form used by Dr. Ganta appears to have been completed as an accommodation to the claimant and includes only conclusions regarding functional limitations without any rationale for those conclusions. Dr. Ganta did not provide any objective medical findings to support his assessment. I find this evidence has no probative value because any [sic] objective evidence does not support it.

(Id.).

Based on the above, plaintiff's argument - namely, that the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence for rejecting Dr. Ganta's testimony - is without merit. The ALJ's reasons could not be clearer: Dr. Ganta's opinion is "too restrictive" in light of other substantial evidence, and it is overly simplistic and conclusory. Based on the medical evidence of record, the ALJ's ...


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