United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VICTOR B. KENTON, 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 benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.
Plaintiff raises the following issues:
1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly considered the evidence of mental impairment; and
2. Whether the ALJ gave proper consideration Plaintiff's testimony and statements.
(JS at 4.)
This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed and remanded for a de novo hearing.
THE ALJ PROPERLY CONSIDERED EVIDENCE OF MENTAL IMPAIRMENT
Following administrative denials of her disability claims, Plaintiff had a hearing before the ALJ on July 10, 2012, at which time she appeared with a representative and provided testimony (at times with the assistance of an interpreter). Testimony was also taken from a Vocational Expert ("VE"). (AR 37-61.)
Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable Decision on August 10, 2012. (AR 24-33.) The ALJ followed the Five Step Sequential Evaluation, as described in the Decision. At Step Two, he found that Plaintiff's severe impairments consist of the following: thoracic and lumbar generalized osteoporosis and degenerative changes; and depression. (AR 26.) He found that Plaintiff's severe impairments do not meet or equal any Listing (which is a matter not disputed in this litigation).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") permits her to perform light work with certain exertional limitations, and also limits her to "simple work, [with] only occasional public contact." (AR 26.)
In determining Plaintiff's mental RFC, the ALJ reviewed and summarized various consultative and treatment records, and also cited the opinion of a non-testifying State Agency psychiatrist. The ALJ determined to accord substantial weight to the opinion of one Consultative Examiner ("CE"), Dr. Riahinejad, because he found it to be consistent with the record as a whole. For the same reason, he gave substantial weight to the opinion of the State Agency psychiatrist. (AR 30.) Plaintiff takes issue with the weight accorded to these various opinions, and also asserts that the ALJ failed to give specific and legitimate reasons to reject the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Yegiazaryan.
The time line of treatment for Plaintiff's mental health issues is somewhat sporadic. As the ALJ noted, the records indicate that Plaintiff was first seen in Los Angeles County USC Medical Center emergency room for depression in November of 2008, at which time she underwent a psychiatric evaluation, was diagnosed with depression, and was prescribed various antidepressant medications. (AR 28, citing AR 198-244.) According to those records, Plaintiff's mental status examination indicated normal hygiene and grooming; cooperative behavior; an awake and alert level of consciousness; fair memory; normal speech; dysphoric and crying mood; constricted affect; linear associations; no hallucinations or delusions or suicidal ideation. She had fair impulse control and insight and judgment, and indicated that she wanted medications. (AR 244.)
It was not until three years later, in March 2011, that Plaintiff had an initial assessment at the San Fernando Mental Health Center at which time she indicated she had received no past treatment from a psychiatrist. (AR 28, 313-318.) She received subsequent treatment at that facility. The records indicate that she reported feeling a little better in May and July of 2011. (AR 29, 324, 326.) Indeed, the report of a social worker from July 2011 reflected that Plaintiff had a euthymic mood,  was not undergoing stressful situations in her life, and had a "good spirit." (AR 319.)
On August 19, 2011, Plaintiff was referred by the Department of Social Service for a consultative psychological evaluation ("CE"). (AR 331-336.) Dr. Riahinejad performed an examination, and also obtained subjective reporting from Plaintiff in which she indicated she has been depressed since 2002, after she underwent a complicated hysterectomy, following which she lost her brother and then her mother in 2005 and 2009 respectively. She indicated she is becoming increasingly depressed, anxious and fearful, and that she was taking various medications prescribed by a psychiatrist that she was seeing. (AR 332.) Dr. Riahinejad performed a test which ruled out ...