United States District Court, Central District of California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ALKA SAGAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
On July 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff’s application for a period of disability, and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Docket Entry No. 3). On August 27, 2013, the matter was transferred and referred to the current Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry No. 14). On December 30, 2013, Defendant filed an Answer and the Administrative Record (“A.R.”). (Docket Entry Nos. 19, 20). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 15, 16). On March 3, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claim. (Docket Entry No. 21). The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Local R. 7-15; “Case Management Order, ” filed August 7, 2013 (Docket Entry No. 6).
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
Plaintiff, a former medical technician, phlebotomist, and medical receptionist (A.R. 16), asserts disability beginning May 13, 209, based on the alleged physical impairments of degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine; colon cancer, status post resection; hypertension; gastroesophageal reflux disease; and history of coronary artery disease, status post single coronary artery bypass and recent history of a borderline electrocardiogram. (Id. 9; Joint Stip. 2). On February 29, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge, Paula J. Goodrich (“ALJ”), examined the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”), Troy L. Scott. (A.R. 24-63).
On April 6, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Id. 9-17). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (Id. 11). She also determined that Plaintiff has the nonsevere conditions of colon cancer, status post resection; hypertension; gastroesophageal reflux disease; and history of coronary artery disease, status post single coronary artery bypass graft, and recent history of a borderline electrocardiogram. (Id. 11-12). She determined that Plaintiff’s alleged depression is not medically determinable. (Id. 12).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of medium work. (Id. 13).
Relying on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work, as actually and generally performed, as a medical technician (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No. 078.381-014); phlebotomist (DOT No. 079.364-022); and medical receptionist (DOT No. 237.367-038). (Id. 16).
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged disability onset date of May 13, 2009, through April 6, 2012, the date of the decision. (Id. 17).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred (1) in rejecting the opinions of his treating physician; and (2) in discounting Plaintiff’s credibility. (Joint Stip. 3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Carmickle v. Comm’r, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997). It is relevant evidence “which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074; Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must ‘consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner’s] conclusion.’” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted); see Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (inferences “reasonably drawn from the record” can constitute substantial evidence).
This Court “may not affirm [the Commissioner’s] decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence, but must also consider evidence that detracts from [the Commissioner’s] conclusion.” Ray v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 914, 915 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (same). However, the Court cannot disturb findings supported by substantial evidence, even though there may exist other evidence supporting Plaintiff’s claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973). “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner’s] conclusion, [a] court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Reddick, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).
After consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material legal error.
A. Applicable Law
“The Social Security Act defines disability as the ‘inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.’” Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1)(A)). The ALJ follows a five-step, sequential analysis to determine whether a claimant has established disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful employment activity. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial gainful activity” is defined as “work that . . . [i]nvolves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties and . . . [i]s done (or intended) for pay or profit.” Id. §§ 404.1510, 404.1572. If the ALJ determines that the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ proceeds to step two which requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities. See id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); see also Webb, 433 F.3d at 686. The “ability to do basic work activities” is defined as “the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b); Webb, 433 F.3d at 686. An impairment is not severe if it is merely “a slight abnormality (or combination of slight abnormalities) that has no more than a minimal effect on the ability to do basic work activities.” Webb, 433 F.3d at 686.
If the ALJ concludes that a claimant lacks a medically severe impairment, the ALJ must find the claimant not disabled. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 1520(a)(ii); Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002, 1003 (9th Cir. 2005) (ALJ need not consider subsequent steps if there is a finding of “disabled” or “not disabled” at any step).
However, if the ALJ finds that a claimant’s impairment is severe, then step three requires the ALJ to evaluate whether the claimant’s impairment satisfies certain statutory requirements entitling him to a disability finding. Webb, 433 F.3d at 686. If the impairment does not satisfy the statutory requirements entitling the claimant to a disability finding, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s RFC, that is, the ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from all his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e).
Once the RFC is determined, the ALJ proceeds to step four to assess whether the claimant is able to do any work that he or she has done in the past, defined as work performed in the last fifteen years prior to the disability onset date. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is not able to do the type of work that he or she has done in the past or does not have any past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to step five to determine whether - taking into account the claimant’s age, education, work experience and RFC - there is any other work that the claimant can do and if so, whether there are a significant number of such jobs in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii)-(v). The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.
B. The ALJ Properly Discounted the Opinions of Plaintiff’s Treating ...