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Trujillo v. Colvin

United States District Court, Central District of California

January 15, 2015

JAMES TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RALPH ZAREFSKY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff James Trujillo seeks review of the Social Security Commissioner’s decision denying his disability benefits. The Court finds no error, and affirms.

Plaintiff makes two arguments: that the Administrative law Judge wrongly discounted the opinions of the physicians, and that the Administrative Law Judge erred in discrediting Plaintiff’s own testimony. Neither argument has merit.

The Administrative Law Judge gave little weight to the opinion of Dr. Pashi, described as Plaintiff’s family practitioner, which limited Plaintiff to lifting 10 pounds occasionally and frequently, and sitting or standing only two hours in an eight hour day. The Administrative Law Judge thought that this opinion was both conclusory and belied by the record. [AR 37]

An administrative law judge can reject a physician’s opinion if he gives reasons that are appropriate under governing law. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989). Whether or not the opinion was conclusory, the Administrative Law Judge was justified in rejecting it on the basis that it was belied by the record. Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertion that this was a “blanket statement” that was not specific and legitimate, the Administrative Law Judge identified the portions of the record that he felt made Dr. Pashi’s opinion unacceptable. Thus, he referenced the “unremarkable physical examinations” and “mild x-ray examinations” “as discussed above.” [AR 37] He described those examinations and the x-ray results [AR 35-36], and his characterizations of them are accurate. Indeed, even his descriptions of Plaintiff’s impairments - a description Plaintiff does not challenge - supports the notion that the record belied the opinion of Dr. Pashi. Plaintiff had a hernia that was repaired, arthritis in one foot, degenerative disc disease and mild scoliosis. These were all mild impairments, and the Administrative Law Judge acted appropriately in finding that Dr. Pashi overstated the limitations that they would impose on Plaintiff.

Plaintiff also complains that the Administrative Law Judge did not accept the opinion of consultant Dr. Lim. (Plaintiff’s Memorandum 7-8.) Plaintiff appears to have mis-read the decision. The Administrative Law Judge gave Plaintiff the benefit of the doubt, and adopted a less restrictive residual functional capacity than Dr. Lim proposed. [AR 37] Thus, Plaintiff has no basis to complain as to Dr. Lim, and Plaintiff’s arguments about rejection of the physician evidence have no merit.

Plaintiff also complains that the Administrative law Judge discredited his own testimony. Again, the Court disagrees. The Administrative Law Judge was more nuanced in his comments than Plaintiff suggests. He did not find that Plaintiff’s testimony was completely unbelievable, but rather that it was not believable to the extent that Plaintiff suggested his symptoms were totally disabling. So understood, the matters he identified - that Plaintiff’s treatment was conservative, that Plaintiff had worked some, and that Plaintiff had pursued activities that were, at times, indicative of greater capability than he asserted - were all matters that an administrative law judge appropriately can look to in assessing the impact of a claimant’s testimony. Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1433 (9th Cir. 1995); Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc). There was no error in his having done so here.

In accordance with the foregoing, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.


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