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Dunlap v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

July 25, 2016

DIANA LYNN DUNLAP, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Diana L. Dunlap (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the final decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denying her applications for Social Security disability benefits. Because the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed and the matter is dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) on October 13, 2011, alleging disability beginning June 6, 2011 in her DIB application and June 11, 2007 in her SSI application. Administrative Record (“AR”) 264-77. She later amended her alleged onset date to June 3, 2012. AR 125. After Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 239-40. On April 14, 2014, a hearing was held on Plaintiff’s claim for benefits. AR 147-68. On May 9, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR 122-40. In reaching this decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of hypothyroidism/Grave’s disease; asthma; degenerative changes of the cervical spine; back pain; and obesity. AR 127. The ALJ determined that despite her impairments, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work with some additional limitations. AR 131. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a cashier and therefore was not disabled. AR 135. After the Appeals Council denied further review, this action followed. AR 1-2.

         II. ISSUE PRESENTED

         The parties dispute whether the ALJ properly considered the examining physician’s opinion. See Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at 3-4.

         III. THE ALJ PROPERLY WEIGHED THE EXAMINING PHYSICIAN’S OPINION

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of an examining physician, Dr. Michael Singleton. In particular, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ erred when he assigned only “some weight” to the physician’s opinion on the basis that the objective medical evidence did not support the manipulative limitations opined by Dr. Singleton. See JS at 7-9.

         In evaluating Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ reviewed the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating, consulting, and reviewing doctors, and assigned weight to their medical opinions. The ALJ articulated the following rationale for giving only some weight to Dr. Singleton’s findings:

The undersigned assigns some weight to the internal medicine consultative examiner’s medical opinion opined by Dr. Michael Singleton. Dr. Singleton examined the claimant on January 14, 2012. The claimant’s chief complaints included hypothyroidism; bradycardia; and, hypertension. Dr. Singleton performed a physical examination of the claimant and noted the claimant was able to walk to the examination room without any assistance and she was able to take off her shoes and put them back on. The claimant’s physical examination was within grossly normal limitations. However, Dr. Singleton noted positive Tinel’s sign involving her wrists. Dr. Singleton opined the general limitations that were opined by the State Agency physicians noted above. However, Dr. Singleton opined that the claimant was limited to occasional reaching, handling, fingering and feeling (Exhibit 3F [AR 395-400]). The undersigned only assigns some weight to this one time examining medical opinion has [sic] the objective medical evidence does not support the manipulative limitations opined by Dr. Singleton. Thus, the undersigned only assigns some weight to the examining medical opinion.

AR 134.

         Three types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security cases: those who directly treated the plaintiff, those who examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and those who did not treat or examine the plaintiff. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended). A treating physician’s opinion is generally entitled to more weight than that of an examining physician, which is generally entitled to more weight than that of a non-examining physician. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. Thus, the ALJ must give specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting a treating physician’s opinion in favor of a non-treating physician’s contradictory opinion or an examining physician’s opinion in favor of a non-examining physician’s opinion. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998)); Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31 (citing Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)). When a treating or examining physician’s opinion is uncontroverted by another doctor, it may be rejected only for “clear and convincing” reasons. See Carmickle v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31). Where such an opinion is contradicted, the ALJ must provide only “specific and legitimate reasons” for discounting it. Id. Moreover, “[t]he ALJ need not accept the opinion of any physician, including a treating physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); accord Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). Further, the weight given a physician’s opinion depends on whether it is consistent with the record and accompanied by adequate explanation, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, and the doctor’s specialty, among other things. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(3)-(6), 416.927(d)(2)(i)-(ii).

         Here, the record shows that Dr. Singleton’s opinion about manipulative limitations was contradicted by other doctors. Both non-examining state agency physicians found no manipulative limitations. See AR 178, 208. Thus, the Court must determine whether the ALJ gave specific and legitimate reasons for discounting Dr. Singleton’s findings regarding Plaintiff’s manipulative limitations.

         Dr. Singleton cited no laboratory tests or clinical findings in support of his opinion that Plaintiff was limited in her handling, fingering, or otherwise. See Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004) (holding that ALJ need not accept opinion of treating physician if it is inadequately supported by clinical findings). To the contrary, the record contains several laboratory findings indicating that Plaintiff has normal sensory, motor, coordination, and fine motor abilities. AR 104, 458, 464. Although Dr. Singleton noted a ...


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