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Quintanilla v. Berryhill

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

April 21, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK United States Magistrate Judge

         Melvin W. Quintanilla (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying his application for supplemental security income. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this matter is dismissed with prejudice.



         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on January 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning December 7, 1998. Administrative Record (“AR”) 92, 208-09. He applied for supplemental security income on January 31, 2013, alleging disability beginning November 11, 2010. AR 93, 210-19. These claims were denied initially, AR 120-30, and upon reconsideration, AR 133-36, 142-45. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which took place on January 27, 2015; the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) took testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”). AR 39-71. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to October 19, 2012, and withdrew his disability insurance benefits application. AR 42-44.

         In a written decision issued February 26, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim. AR 21-33. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder and schizo affective disorder, but his impairments did not equal the severity of a listed impairment. AR 26-27. The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following non-exertional limitations: Plaintiff could (1) maintain attention and concentration to perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; (2) have occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but no direct interaction with the general public; and (3) work in an environment with occasional changes to the work setting and occasional work-related decision-making. AR 27-28. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as an assembler, and, in the alternative, he could work as a cleaner, packager, and machine feeder. AR 31-33. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 33.

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. AR 17. On December 21, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-6. This action followed.



         The parties dispute whether the ALJ (1) properly rejected the opinion of Dr. Luke Meier and (2) adequately considered the opinion of Dr. Raman Chahal. See Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at 4. A. Relevant Facts 1. Dr. Meier Dr. Meier examined Plaintiff on February 19, 2013, and completed a Mental Health Comprehensive Evaluation. See AR 495-504. Dr. Meier opined that Plaintiff's prognosis was “poor.” AR 503. Dr. Meier noted that, despite Plaintiff's continual use of psychotropic medication, Plaintiff “continues to have difficulty controlling his auditory and visual hallucinations which encourage him to hurt himself, others, and destroy property.” Id. Dr. Meier also noted that Plaintiff was “in a persistent state of agitation and isolation.” Id. Dr. Meier found that Plaintiff's “sever[e] and chronic mental illness has negatively impacted all areas of his daily functioning.” Id. Dr, Meier noted that, throughout his evaluation, Plaintiff “demonstrated that because of the severity of his symptoms, it is doubtful that he could obtain or maintain full time employment.” Id. Thus, Dr. Meier opined that Plaintiff was “unemployable and unable to do any gainful/substantial work for the next twelve months.” Id.

         The ALJ gave no weight to Dr. Meier's opinion for the following reasons:

Dr. Meier assessed the claimant's Global Assessment Functioning (GAF) scores to be as low as 43 and 32 and noted that he was unemployable and unable to perform substantial gainful activity for the next 12 months. First, the determination of disability is solely reserved for the Commissioner. Moreover, Dr. Meier's opinions are inconsistent with the objective medical evidence. He noted that the claimant was “failing his classes.” However, he reported that he was getting “B”s and “C”s. Additionally, [Dr. Meier] noted that the claimant was unable to watch TV because he is unable to concentrate. However, the claimant's aunt noted that he spends his day watching television. Moreover, the report noted that he frequently got into trouble during his employment as an Assembler and had several physical altercations with his coworkers. However, the claimant reported that he was laid off and not fired, and he had no problems with his coworkers. As such, Dr. Me[]ier's report is inconsistent with the objective medical evidence and the claimant's reported activities and is therefore unreliable.

AR 29 (citations ...

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