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Escobar v. Berryhill

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

May 5, 2017

ESEQUIEL ESCOBAR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ALKA SAGAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         PROCEEDINGS

         On May 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (Docket Entry No. 1). The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 11-12). On September 26, 2016, Defendant filed an Answer along with the Administrative Record (“AR”). (Docket Entry Nos. 15-16). On December 22, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”), setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claims. (Docket Entry No. 17).

         The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15; “Order Re: Procedures in Social Security Case, ” filed May 16, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 9).

         BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On May 2, 2013, Plaintiff, formerly employed as an ice cream truck driver, a golf course maintenance worker, and a cashier at a market (see AR 33, 197, 202-07), filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging a disability since April 2, 2013. (AR 174-78, 182-84). On October 28, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Joan Ho, heard testimony from Plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and vocational expert Kelly Winn-Boaitey. (See AR 27-60). On December 23, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (See AR 13-20). After determining that Plaintiff had severe impairments -- “degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine and lumbar spine; lubago; and bilateral shoulder acromial downsloping” (AR 15-16)[2] --, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[3] to perform the following: lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frquently; standing and/or walking for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; sitting for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling occasionally. (AR 16-20). Finding that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a peddler as generally performed and as a cashier/checker as actually and generally performed, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 20).

         Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's Decision. (See AR 9). The request was denied on April 8, 2016. (See AR 1-3). The ALJ's Decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner, allowing this Court to review the decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

         PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTIONS

         Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ failed to properly (1) reject the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Akmakjian; and (2) pose a complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert. (See Joint Stip. at 3-9, 13-16, 18).

         DISCUSSION

         After consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material legal error.[4]

         A. The ALJ Properly Rejected the Opinion of Plaintiff's Treating Physician, Jack Akmakjian, M.D.

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Akmakjian. (See Joint Stip. at 3-9, 13). Defendant asserts that the ALJ provided valid reasons for rejecting Dr. Akmakjian's opinion. (See Joint Stip. at 9-13).

         Although a treating physician's opinion is generally afforded the greatest weight in disability cases, it is not binding on an ALJ with respect to the existence of an impairment or the ultimate determination of disability. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989). The weight given a treating physician's opinion depends on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is consistent with other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(b)-(d), 416.927(b)-(d). “Generally, a treating physician's opinion carries more weight than an examining physician's, and an examining ...


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