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Garcia v. Colvin

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

December 1, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

For Raquel S Garcia, Plaintiff: Bill LaTour, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bill LaTour Law Offices, Colton, CA.

For Carolyn W Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-CV, LEAD ATTORNEY, AUSA - Office of U.S. Attorney, Civil Division, Los Angeles, CA; Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-SSA, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel for Social Security Adm., San Francisco, CA; Tova D Wolking, LEAD ATTORNEY, SAUSA - U.S. Attorney's Office, Social Security Administration, San Francisco, CA.



This matter is before the Court for review of the Decision of 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. Plaintiff and Defendant have filed their pleadings, Defendant has filed the certified transcript of record, and each party has filed its supporting brief. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes the Decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.


Plaintiff, Raquel Garcia, applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 22, 2011. (AR 66). Plaintiff alleges disability commencing February 24, 2011. (AR 10, 12). The Commissioner denied the Application initially. (AR 88-92). A hearing on the claim was conducted on October 25, 2012. (AR 28-65). On December 4, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") issued an unfavorable decision. (AR 7-27). The Appeals Council denied the request for review. (AR 1-4). Plaintiff commenced this civil action seeking judicial review.


A. The ALJ Properly Considered the Treating Physician's Findings Regarding Plaintiff's Physical Residual Functional Capacity

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider the physical residual functional capacity assessed by Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Brian Nguyen.[1] Defendant responds that the ALJ provided substantial evidence for giving little weight to Dr. Nguyen's medical opinion.

At the hearing, the Plaintiff testified she was unable to work due to symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, back pain, neck pain, right shoulder pain, diabetes, and depression. (AR 15).

The ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe medical impairments: fibromyalgia, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, and depression. (AR 12). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (" RFC") to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) (lifting up to 20 pounds occasionally, with 10 pounds frequently and walking and/or standing for up to 6 hours a day). (AR 14). Further the ALJ found: Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she can frequently handle and finger bilaterally; she can occasionally do overhead reaching; she is limited to occasional exposure to temperature extremes of hot and cold; she can have no to rare exposure to unprotected heights and she is limited to remembering and carrying out unskilled work. (AR 14).

In assessing Plaintiff's RFC the ALJ gave " little weight" to Dr. Nguyen's opinion that Plaintiff can perform less than a light range of work. (AR 20). In a form entitled " Medical Opinion Re: Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Physical)" dated June 18, 2012, Dr. Nguyen stated the following limitations: Plaintiff has the maximum ability to lift and carry 10 pounds during an 8-hour work day; can stand and walk less than 2 hours during an 8-hour work day; can sit for 5 minutes before changing position; can stand for 5 minutes before changing position; must walk about every 10 minutes for about 15 minutes each time; needs the opportunity to shift at will from sitting or standing/walking; may need to lie down at unpredictable intervals during a work shift every 5-15 minutes; can occasionally twist, stoop, crouch, climb stairs, and climb ladders; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, humidity, and hazards (machinery, heights, etc.) and should avoid moderate exposure to extreme heat, fumes, order, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. (AR 345-47). Dr. Nguyen also indicated that on average Plaintiff's impairments and treatments would cause her to be absent from work no more than three times a month. (AR 347).

Although a treating physician's opinion is generally afforded the greatest weight in disability cases, it is not binding on an ALJ with respect to the existence of an impairment or the ultimate determination of disability. Batson v. Comm'r., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004). The weight given a treating physician's opinion depends on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is consistent with other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b)-(d). The ALJ may disregard the treating physician's opinion whether or not that opinion is contradicted." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the treating doctor's opinion is not contradicted by another doctor, it may be rejected only for " clear and convincing" reasons. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995)(as amended). If the treating doctor's opinion is ...

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