Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Davis v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 11, 2016

APRIL DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff’s application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”).[1] In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from November 18, 2011, the date plaintiff’s SSI application was filed, through the date of the final administrative decision. (ECF No. 16.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff’s motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 25.) No optional reply brief was filed.

         For the reasons that follow, the court DENIES plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner’s cross-motion for summary judgment, and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on January 21, 1982, completed the 12th grade with special education classes, and previously worked as a fast food worker and cashier. (Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 212, 252, 346.)[2] On November 18, 2011, plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that her disability began on July 17, 2011, at 29 years of age, and that she was disabled due to a stroke, left side weakness, her left side “giving out, ” inability to move her left leg at times, headaches, memory loss, depression, and high cholesterol. (AT 125, 140, 212, 251.) After plaintiff’s application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which took place on June 25, 2013, and at which plaintiff, represented by an attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (AT 50-114.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision dated August 26, 2013, determining that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from November 18, 2011, the date that plaintiff’s SSI application was filed, through the date of the ALJ’s decision. (AT 21-32.) The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review on February 6, 2015. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court on April 8, 2015, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ failed to base plaintiff’s residual functional capacity assessment on substantial evidence; (2) whether the ALJ erroneously discounted plaintiff’s credibility and the credibility of a third-party witness; (3) whether the ALJ improperly failed to account for plaintiff’s headaches; and (4) whether the ALJ erred in not evaluating plaintiff for a somatoform disorder.[3]

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ’s conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary of the ALJ’s Findings

         The ALJ evaluated plaintiff’s entitlement to SSI pursuant to the Commissioner’s standard five-step analytical framework.[4] At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 18, 2011, the SSI application date. (AT 23.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: migraine headaches, obesity, depression, and anxiety. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 26.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except that the claimant is limited to simple repetitive tasks in a non-public setting. The claimant is also limited to occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.

(AT 28.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AT 31.) However, at step five, the ALJ found, in reliance on the VE’s testimony, that, in light of plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. (AT 31-32.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from November 18, 2011, the date that plaintiff’s SSI application was filed, through the date of the ALJ’s decision. (AT 32.)

         B. Plaintiff’s Substantive Challenges to the Commissioner’s Determinations

         Whether the ALJ failed to base plaintiff’s residual functional capacity assessment on substantial evidence

          The record in this case contains treatment records, but no functional capacity assessments, from plaintiff’s treating providers. Thus, in evaluating the medical evidence for purposes of formulating plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ primarily relied on the opinions of the state agency physicians and a consultative examiner, as well as plaintiff’s treatment records.

         The weight given to medical opinions depends in part on whether they are proffered by treating, examining, or non-examining professionals. Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 2001); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). Generally speaking, a treating physician’s opinion carries more weight than an examining physician’s opinion, and an examining physician’s opinion carries more weight than a non-examining physician’s opinion. Holohan, 246 F.3d at 1202.

         To evaluate whether an ALJ properly rejected a medical opinion, in addition to considering its source, the court considers whether (1) contradictory opinions are in the record; and (2) clinical findings support the opinions. An ALJ may reject an uncontradicted opinion of a treating or examining medical professional only for “clear and convincing” reasons. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31. In contrast, a contradicted opinion of a treating or examining professional may be rejected for “specific and legitimate” reasons. Id. at 830.

         While a treating professional’s opinion generally is accorded superior weight, if it is contradicted by a supported examining professional’s opinion (supported by different independent clinical findings), the ALJ may resolve the conflict. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)). The regulations require the ALJ to weigh the contradicted treating physician opinion, Edlund, 253 F.3d at 1157, except that the ALJ in any event need not give it any weight if it is conclusory and supported by minimal clinical findings. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 1999) (treating physician’s conclusory, minimally supported opinion ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.