United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF’S SOCIAL SECURITY
Charles Joseph Haydostian (“Plaintiff”) seeks
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to
Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently
before the Court on the parties’ briefs, which were
submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Erica P.
Grosjean, United States Magistrate Judge. Upon a review of
the administrative record, the Court finds the ALJ’s
decision is proper and is supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole. Accordingly, this Court affirms the
agency’s determination to deny benefits and denies
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed an application for DIB in September 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of December 1, 2009. AR 180. His
application was denied initially in January 2012 and on
reconsideration in July 2012. AR 122, 128. A hearing was
conducted before Administrative Law Judge John Cusker
(“ALJ”) on January 9, 2013. AR 32-62. On May 31,
2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was
not disabled. AR 16-30. Plaintiff filed an appeal of the
decision with the Appeals Council. AR 5-7. The Appeals
Council denied his appeal, rendering the order the final
decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-3.
now challenges that decision, arguing that the ALJ erred by:
(1) relying on nonexamining physicians over treating and
examining physicians without an adequate basis, (2) finding
the Plaintiff not credible, and (3) not including all of
Plaintiff’s impairments in the Residual Functional
Capacity (“RFC”) determination. (Doc. 15, pgs.
6-8). Plaintiff argues that the Court should reverse and
award benefits to Plaintiff. In the alternative, Plaintiff
contends the case should be remanded for further
administrative proceedings. In opposition, Defendant argues
that the ALJ: (1) properly found Plaintiff not entirely
credible, (2) properly evaluated the medical opinion
evidence, and (3) properly did not account for unsupported
limitations in the RFC assessment. (Doc. 26, pgs. 5-12).
testified that he attended school through the tenth grade,
and took a high school proficiency examination. AR 37. After
receiving six months vocational training as a welder, he went
on to work as a structural steel fitter for 15 years. AR 37.
After December 2009, the alleged onset date, Plaintiff worked
part time doing other odd jobs at work sites for his employer
because his pain prevented him from doing his welder work. AR
testified that he cannot stand for more than short periods
because his feet swell and become numb. AR 41-42. It is also
difficult for him to grasp and lift things with his left hand
and arm. AR 42. He has difficulty bending and can only lift
15 pounds. AR 43, 45. He cannot reach overhead or outward
repeatedly with his left arm. AR 46. The fingers of his left
hand “curl up” into a fist after 20 minutes of
use. AR 48. He experiences pain on the left side of his head,
face, and neck. AR 44. In response to pain and dizziness he
spends seven to eight hours lying down during the day. AR
43-44. Plaintiff testified he cannot afford to see a doctor.
AR 42, 49. He has sought no treatment and taken no
medication, including over-the-counter medication, since
January 2012. AR 40, 50-51. Plaintiff received unemployment
insurance until December 2012. AR 50.
entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. However,
only evidence that relates to the issues raised in this
appeal is summarized below.
Medical Treatment History
October 2009, just before the alleged onset date of December
2009, CT scans showed Plaintiff had acute and chronic
sinusitis. AR 261. Starting in September 2009, Plaintiff
received primary care treatment from Patrick Brauner, M.D. AR
271. Dr. Brauner prescribed Plaintiff narcotic medications
for complaints of facial pain. AR 270. Dr. Brauner referred
Plaintiff for sleep studies in May 2010 but he refused the
services. AR 267. Dr. Brauner also referred Plaintiff for a
neurological examination regarding his complaints of facial
pain. AR 264. On August 4, 2010, Plaintiff requested that Dr.
Brauner write a note to put him on temporary disability, but
Dr. Brauner refused until the results of the neurological
examination were back. Plaintiff became angry, and Dr.
Brauner stopped treating Plaintiff. AR 264, 284.
August 24, 2010, Madhav Suri, M.D., performed a neurological
examination (on referral from Dr. Brauner) to evaluate
Plaintiff for complaints of left facial pain and left arm
pain. AR 285-88. He diagnosed Plaintiff with “left
facial pain, atypical, suggestive of left trigeminal
neuralgia atypical facial pain.” AR 284. On September
3, 2010, nerve conduction studies showed abnormal results of
median nerve entrapment at the wrists, left greater than the
right. AR 289-90.
October 2010, Ernest Yamamoto, M.D., who had been treating
Plaintiff for allegations of facial pain, reported Plaintiff
was non-compliant with medications and Dr. Yamamoto said he
would no longer serve as Plaintiff’s physician. AR
343-45. In November 2010, Dr. Suri declined to prescribe
Plaintiff narcotics Plaintiff had requested based on Dr.
Brauner’s recommendation that other medications should
be considered. AR 284. From November 2010 to July 2011,
Plaintiff saw Michael Castillo, M.D., periodically for
complaints of facial pain and he received medication refills.
AR 328-29, 331, 334, 341-42.
last medical treatment was in January 2012, when he went to
the hospital with facial and left arm pain and requested
medication refills. AR 362. Physical examination findings at
that time were unremarkable. AR 363-64.
Consultative Examiner, Dr. Portnoff, Ph.D.
November 18, 2011, Lance A. Portnoff, Ph.D., performed a
consultative psychological examination. AR 348-52. Plaintiff
reported that he felt depressed about his health and did not
like to be around people. AR 349. Dr. Portnoff diagnosed a
depressive disorder, NOS, with anxious features, and
methamphetamine abuse in full sustained remission. AR 351. He
found that Plaintiff demonstrated adequate concentration,
persistence, and pace with appropriate thought content and
intact memory. AR 349-50. Dr. Portnoff opined that Plaintiff
was capable of performing simple and repetitive tasks. AR
351. He further opined Plaintiff had moderate limitations in
his ability to accept instructions from supervisors, interact
with the public, maintain regular attendance, complete a
normal workday or workweek, and deal with the stress
encountered in a competitive work environment. AR 351-52.
Consultative Examiner, Dr. Wagner, M.D.
December 14, 2011, Roger Wagner, M.D., performed a
consultative internal medicine examination. AR 355-59.
Plaintiff only indicated problems with facial and arm pain,
and the examiner observed that Plaintiff previously had sinus
surgery. AR 355, 357. Dr. Wagner diagnosed left ulnar side
fourth and fifth finger pain and numbness, and left facial
pain possibly consistent with trigeminal neuralgia, AR 359.
Dr. Wagner assessed a normal range of motion with full motor
strength in the bilateral extremities, including the left
elbow, AR 356-57. The doctor recorded that he was able to
touch Plaintiff’s face without any difficulty, AR 359.
Dr. Wagner opined Plaintiff had no exertional or postural
limitations except that he should avoid climbing or balancing
on ladders or scaffolds given his reported history of
vertigo. AR 359. He further opined Plaintiff had no
manipulative limitations involving his right (dominant) hand,
but he was limited to frequent manipulative activities with
the left hand.
State Agency Medical Evaluators
December 15, 2011, G. Ikawa, M.D., a State agency physician,
reviewed the evidence and opined Plaintiff could sustain
simple repetitive tasks with limited public contact. AR
72-74. On June 27, 2012, Anna M. Franco, Psy.D., reviewed the
evidence and affirmed Dr. Ikawa’s opinion regarding
Plaintiff’s mental abilities. AR 105-107.
January 11, 2012, Martha A. Goodrich, M.D., a State agency
physician, reviewed the evidence of record and opined
Plaintiff had no exertional limitations, but he was limited
to occasionally crawling and climbing ladders, ropes and
scaffolds. AR 70-72. Dr. Goodrich further opined Plaintiff
was limited to gross and fine manipulation with the left
upper extremity and needed to avoid exposure to vibration,
and in particular, he was limited to occasionally using
vibratory hand tools with either upper extremity. AR 71-72.
On June 20, 2012, State agency physician L. Bobba, M.D.,
reviewed the evidence and endorsed Dr. Goodrich’s
opinion. AR 103-105.
DISABILITY DETERMINATION PROCESS
qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
plaintiff must establish that he or she is unable to engage
in substantial gainful activity due to a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or
can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less
than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An
individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:
. . . his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the
Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process
for evaluating a claimant’s alleged disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1502(a)-(f). The ALJ proceeds through the
steps and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the
claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1502(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical
evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.
the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of
alleged disability, (2) whether the claimant had
medically-determinable “severe” impairments,
whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to
one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. §
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (4) whether the claimant retained
the RFC to perform his or her past relevant work, and (5)
whether the claimant had the ability to perform other jobs
existing in significant numbers at the regional and national
level. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f).
the Social Security Administration’s five-step
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 19. In
particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act though
September 30, 2015. AR 21. Further, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since December 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. AR 21. The
ALJ identified “history of left ulnar side fourth and
fifth finger pain and numbness, status post-surgery; history
of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, with left greater than
the right; trigeminal neuralgia; depressive disorder, not
otherwise specified (NOS) with anxious features; and a
history of methamphetamine use, in sustained full
remission” as severe impairments. AR 21. The ALJ also
determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 22.
on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform work at all exertional
levels, but is limited to occasionally crawling and climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He is also limited to frequent
gross and fine manipulation with the left upper extremity,
and must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration;
specifically he is limited to occasionally using vibratory
hand tools with either upper extremity. In addition, he is
capable of sustaining simple repetitive tasks with limited
on this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform
his past relevant work. AR 26. However, the ALJ found that
because there were a significant number of other jobs in the
national economy which Plaintiff could perform, he was not
disabled. AR 26.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the
Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits under the Act.
In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such
determinations, this Court must determine whether the
decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). Under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to
determine whether: (1) it is supported by substantial
evidence, and (2) it applies the correct legal standards.
See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159
(9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071,
1074 (9th Cir. 2007).
evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d
947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). It is “relevant evidence
which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. “Where the evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the
ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be
The ALJ’s Assessment of the Medical Opinions is
Supported by Substantial Evidence.
argues that the ALJ improperly considered the medical
evidence regarding Plaintiff’s impairments.
Specifically, Plaintiff is challenging the ALJ’s
reliance on nonexamining physicians over examining and
treating physicians. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly
relied on the opinion of non-examining sources and did not
address the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating
physicians. (Doc. 15, pg. 7).
contends that the ALJ’s assessment of the medical
analysis is supported by substantial evidence and that the
ALJ properly provided reasons for the weight accorded to the
medical opinions. Specifically, Defendant argues that the ALJ
did not discuss treating physician opinions because there
were no treating physician opinions and in relying on the
nonexamining opinions, the ALJ adopted the most restrictive