United States District Court, C.D. California
STEVE W. METZGER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RALPH ZAREFSKY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Steve W. Metzger seeks review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for disability benefits. Plaintiff and Defendant each have filed memoranda in support of their pleadings. The Court determines that a reply is not necessary to a full understanding of the issues, and therefore issues its decision now.
Plaintiff claimed an onset date of September 21, 2008, and testified that his condition was greatly improved following his neck surgery in June 2011. [AR 98] His attorney noted this improvement during the hearing as well [AR 93] and, in this Court, addresses the claimed errors only as they pertain to the findings before December 2011, the point at which Plaintiff says his headaches resolved and his cervical fusion became solid. (Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Complaint 8:26-9:4.) The medical expert gave his opinion of Plaintiff's capacity prior to the surgery [AR 96]. Thus, the focus of this case is whether Plaintiff was entitled to benefits beginning on the onset date and ending sometime withing six months after the June 2011surgery. The errors Plaintiff asserts in this Court thus are viewed in that context.
Plaintiff asserts two errors: that the Administrative Law Judge wrongly discredited Plaintiff's treating physician, and that he wrongly discredited Plaintiff himself. The Court addresses those in turn.
The Administrative Law Judge found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity:
[O]ccasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds; frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit (with normal breaks) unlimited; occasionally perform all posturals, except never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; avoid extremes of neck motion, maintaining a fixed head position 15 to 30 minutes at a time and keeping it at a comfortable position otherwise; and limited to simple tasks with simple work related decisions.
[AR 22] Plaintiff finds fault with that portion of this finding that concerns his ability to stand and sit. Dr. Kwok, one of Plaintiff's treating physicians, completed a physical capacities evaluation, in which he checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff was limited in an eight hour work day to sitting a total of one hour, standing a total of one hour and walking a total of one hour. [AR 372] The Administrative Law Judge rejected this opinion. The Administrative Law Judge was justified in his rejection.
As Plaintiff notes, the Administrative Law Judge stated that Dr. Kwok's opinion was not consistent with the record as a whole [AR 27], but Plaintiff omits the following portion of that statement " e.g., unremarkable physical examinations and mild MRI/xray findings as discussed above." [ Id. ] Thus, the Administrative Law Judge did not simply reference the record in general terms; he referenced the specific portions that he had discussed concerning examinations and imaging that had been performed:
He noted Xrays in 2009 showing, among other things, degenerative disc disease and spondylosis most severe at C5-6 and C6-7; and a normal CT scan of the head at the same time. [AR 23]
He noted a physical examination in February 2010 which contained largely unremarkable findings, except for diagnoses of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine. [AR 24] Among the observations during that examination were that Plaintiff had mild difficulty in getting on and off the examining table and changing positions; that he walked with a normal gait; that there was no tenderness in the cervical and lumbar spine; and that there were no neurological deficits.
He noted a May 2010 physical examination that showed muscle spasm in the cervical spine and mild pain with motion. There was no sensory loss and no motor weakness. [AR 24]
He noted an MRI in December 2009, and the mild-moderate reaction to epidural injections. [AR 25]
He noted an emergency room visit in October 2010 for headaches, in which Plaintiff denied nausea or vomiting, and obtained relief with Dilaudid.
He noted a December 2010 physical examination in which Plaintiff appeared to be in "moderate distress" secondary to his headache, but had no neurological deficits; ...