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Ambriz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 6, 2017

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

         Martha Ambriz (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Social Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”)'s decision denying her application for disability benefits. Three issues are presented for decision here:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly assessed the treating physician's opinion (see Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) at 4-9, 14);
2. Whether new evidence submitted for the first time to the Appeals Council supports a remand (id. at 4, 14-15, 17);
3. Whether the ALJ properly relied on the vocational expert (“VE”)'s job-numbers testimony (see id. at 4, 17-20, 24).

         The Court addresses Plaintiff's contentions below, and finds that reversal is not warranted.

         A. The ALJ Provided Specific and Legitimate Reasons for Discounting The Treating Physician's Opinion

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly assessed the opinion of treating physician Dr. Linda Atkinson. (Joint Stip. at 4-9, 14.)

         As a rule, if an ALJ wishes to disregard the opinion of a treating or examining physician, “he or she must make findings setting forth specific, legitimate reasons for doing so that are based on substantial evidence in the record.” Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983); accord Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Here, the ALJ properly declined to assign controlling weight[2] to Dr. Atkinson's opinion[3] for three reasons.

         First, the opinion was not supported by the clinical findings of the record as a whole. (AR at 216); see Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th Cir. 2004) (even opinion of treating physician need not be accepted if inadequately supported by clinical findings); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (reviewing court must affirm Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in “record as a whole”). For example, (1) a nerve conduction study showed borderline carpal tunnel syndrome of the left extremity and no evidence of the syndrome in the right extremity; (2) Plaintiff was treated conservatively with wrist splints at night and cortisone injection therapy, on an as needed basis[4]; and (3) an examination showed grip strength of the hands of 5/5 bilaterally. (AR at 211, 215-16, 421-22, 537-38.)

         Second, Dr. Atkinson's opinion conflicted with the State agency examining opinion of Dr. Azizollah Karamlou.[5] (AR at 27); see Batson, 359 F.3d at 1197 (“[I]t was permissible for the ALJ to give [treating physician opinions] minimal evidentiary weight, in light of . . . opinions and observations of other doctors.”); Kane v. Colvin, 2015 WL 5317149, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 10, 2015) (ALJ properly rejected treating physician's opinion in part because it was contradicted by state agency physicians' less severe limitation findings).

         Third, Plaintiff was able to perform activities of daily living that demonstrated she could perform gross handling with little problem, such as: (1) managing a checkbook; (2) using a computer; (3) typing on a keyboard; (4) doing laundry; (5) helping children with homework; (6) driving children to and from school and sporting events; and (7) preparing meals. (AR at 215-16, 238, 241-42, 246, 372, 375, 382-85); see Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1162 (9th Cir. 2014) (inconsistency between physician's opinion and claimant's daily activities may justify rejection of opinion); cf. Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001) (ALJ properly discounted subjective complaints based in part on claimant's ability to attend to needs of her two children, cook, and do laundry). The ALJ specifically highlighted the transferability of Plaintiff's independent ability to do laundry for the five people in her ...


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