United States District Court, C.D. California
For Laura De La Torre, Plaintiff: Cyrus Safa, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Lawrence D Rohlfing, Santa Fe Springs, CA.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Ann L Maley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Social Security Administration, San Francisco, CA; Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-CV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of U.S. Attorney, Civil Division, Los Angeles, CA; Assistant U.S. Attorney LA, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel for Social Security Adm., San Francisco, CA.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SHERI PYM, United States Magistrate Judge.
On October 4, 2013, plaintiff Laura De La Torre filed a complaint against defendant Carolyn Colvin, seeking a review of a denial of Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB") and Supplemental Security Income (" SSI"). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.
Plaintiff presents three disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the administrative law judge (" ALJ") properly determined that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work; (2) whether the ALJ properly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician Lara Stewart, M.D.; and (3) whether the ALJ properly assessed plaintiff's credibility. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint (" P. Mem.") at 4-14; Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Answer (" D. Mem.") at 2-13.
Having carefully studied the parties' written submissions, the Administrative Record (" AR"), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ properly rejected plaintiff's subjective complaints. But the court also finds the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, and that the ALJ's step four determination is not supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff, who was fifty years old on her alleged disability onset date, has a GED. AR at 63, 106, 145. Her past relevant work includes employment as a cashier. Id. at 22, 63, 146, 173.
On March 16, 2010, plaintiff filed applications a period of disability, DIB, and SSI alleging an onset date of September 1, 2009, due to a anxiety, panic attacks, arthritis of the spine, and asthma. Id. at 104-116, 144. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 82-86.
On June 20, 2011, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 60, 62-79. The ALJ denied benefits on February 13, 2012. Id. at 13-23.
Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 1, 2009. Id. at 15.
At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (" COPD"), osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id at 16.
At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.
The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (" RFC"),  and determined that she had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 CFR § § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that she should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants and her work should be limited to simple, repetitive tasks. Id at 17.
The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier. Id. at 22. Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not suffering from a disability ...