United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
DANIEL C. CLARK, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
J. WISTRICH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks reversal of the decision of the 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.
parties are familiar with the procedural history of this
case. [See JS 2]. Plaintiff alleged disability
beginning February 1, 2012. His date last insured for social
security disability insurance purposes was December 31, 2012.
[JS 2]. In a written hearing decision that constitutes the
final decision of the Commissioner, an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) found plaintiff not disabled on the
ground that he retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform his past relevant work as an
appointment clerk and as an information clerk. [See
JS 2; Administrative Record (“AR”) 11-19].
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)
(quoting Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th
Cir. 1999)). “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 Ci r. 1999)).
treating source opinion
contends that the ALJ erroneously rejected the July 8, 2014
opinion of Julie Monroe, D.O. [See JS 3-8].
8, 2014, Dr. Monroe, of Mountains Community Hospital Rural
Clinic in Lake Arrowhead, California, completed a
work-related physical functional assessment form indicating
that plaintiff could perform less than the full range of
sedentary work. Among other things, Dr. Monroe opined that
plaintiff “needs crutches for ambulation” and
would miss more than three days a month of work. [AR
found that plaintiff could perform a restricted range of
light work, including requiring he use of crutches for
walking distances of 30 feet or more. [AR 15]. The ALJ did
not identify Dr. Monroe by name; however, the ALJ cited her
functional assessment and gave her opinion “little
weight” because it was dated after the relevant period
and did not assess plaintiff's capabilities during the
relevant period. [AR 18]. The ALJ must provide clear and
convincing reasons, supported by substantial evidence in the
record, for rejecting an uncontroverted treating source
opinion. If contradicted by that of another doctor, a
treating or examining source opinion may be rejected for
specific and legitimate reasons that are based on substantial
evidence in the record. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004);
Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1148-1149 (9th
Cir. 2001); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-831
(9th Cir. 1995).
articulated clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Dr.
Monroe's controverted opinion. Standing alone, the mere
fact that a medical opinion was rendered after expiration of
a claimant's insured status does not render that opinion
irrelevant. See Lester, 81 F.3d at 832; Smith v.
Bowen, 849 F.2d 1222, 1225 (9th Cir. 1988). In this
instance, however, the ALJ was justified in rejecting Dr.
Monroe's opinion because she did not address
plaintiff's functional capacity before his date last
insured almost 18 months earlier. Dr. Monroe gave no
indication that she treated or examined plaintiff before or
even close in time to his date last insured, or that she had
reviewed medical records from that period. Treatment notes
from Mountains Community Hospital establish that Dr. Monroe
first treated plaintiff on January 28, 2014, more than a year
after his insured status expired. [See AR 479-481].
Moreover, where asked to identify the “medical
findings” supporting her opinion, Dr. Monroe cited only
plaintiff's “chronic knee [and] low back
pain.” [AR 476]. She did not identify any objective or
clinical findings supporting the disabling functional
limitations she assessed as of July 2014. Accordingly, the
ALJ did not err in rejecting her opinion when assessing
plaintiff's condition prior to December 31, 2012..
See Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 602 (9th Cir.
1998) (holding that the fact that a treating physician did
not examine plaintiff until more than a year after expiration
of her insured status, coupled with other contradictory
evidence, fully supported the ALJ's rejection of the
physician's “check-the-box form” stating that
the claimant had been “continuously unable to
work” since before her date last insured); see also
Thomas, 278 F.3d at 957 (“The 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.”).
of the record
also contends that the ALJ erred in failing adequately to
develop the record. More specifically, plaintiff argues that
the ALJ “could have contacted Dr. Monroe in order to
obtain clarification of her opinion regarding plaintiff's
condition during the relevant time period.” [JS 4].
Plaintiff also contends that if the ALJ had called a medical
expert to review the medical records in this case and testify
as to ...