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Meza v. Colvin

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

February 27, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          ANDREW J. WISTRICH United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation (“JS”) setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

         Administrative Proceedings

         The parties are familiar with the procedural facts, which are summarized in the Joint Stipulation. [See JS 2-3]. Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on May 18, 2012 alleging disability beginning March 28, 2012. [AR 139]. Following a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied benefits in a January 16, 2014 written decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter. [JS 2; Administrative Record (“AR”) AR 1-6, 13-21]. The ALJ determined that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: congestive heart failure; insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; status post abdominal surgeries with history of intermittent nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; right wrist pain, secondary to osteopenia; morbid obesity; chronic anemia, COPD and asthma, controlled by medication; and lower extremity lymphedema. [AR 19]. The ALJ also found that plaintiff had non-severe impairments consisting of diabetic retinopathy, hypertension, depression and anxiety. [AR 19-20]. The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the following additional limitations:

[Plaintiff] is restricted to occasionally climbing ramps, never climbing stairs, never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, occasionally balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. [Plaintiff] has no manipulative limitations. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold and humidity, avoid all exposure to fumes, dusts, gases, poor ventilation and pulmonary irritants, and avoid even moderate exposure to hazards, such as heights and machinery.

[AR 22].

         The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled from March 28, 2012 through the date of her decision because plaintiff's RFC did not preclude performance of her past relevant work as an accounts payable clerk, legal secretary, or insurance clerk. [JS 3].

         Standard of Review

         The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). “Substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). “It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Social Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). “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 upheld. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999)).


         Treating source opinion

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erroneously rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician and family medicine practitioner, Dr. Elisabeth Brown. [See JS 4-6].

         In general, “[t]he opinions of treating doctors should be given more weight than the opinions of doctors who do not treat the claimant.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998)); see Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1148 (9th Cir. 2001). A treating physician's opinion is entitled to greater weight than those of examining or non-examining physicians because “treating physicians are employed to cure and thus have a greater opportunity to know and observe the patient as an individual . . . .” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1157 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1285 (9th Cir. 1996) and citing Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188); see generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 404.1527(c)(2), 416.902, 416.927(c)(2). When a treating physician's medical opinion as to the nature and severity of an individual's impairment is well-supported and not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record, that opinion must be given controlling weight. Edlund, 253 F.3d at 1157; see Orn, 495 F.3d at 631; SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 at 1-2.

         Even when not entitled to controlling weight, “treating source medical opinions are still entitled to deference and must be weighed” in light of (1) the length of the treatment relationship; (2) the frequency of examination; (3) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (4) the supportability of the diagnosis; (5) consistency with other evidence in the record; and (6) the area ...

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