United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Douglas f. Mccormick, United States Magistrate Judge.
Gomez (“Plaintiff”) appeals the
Commissioner's final decision denying his applications
for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this matter is
remanded for further proceedings.
December 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI
alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2010.
Administrative Record (“AR”) 182-95, 204-06.
After his applications were denied, he requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). AR
129-46, 208. At his May 7, 2014 hearing, the ALJ heard
testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”) and
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel. AR 7.
22, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits.
AR 50, 54-55. He found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified,
polysubstance abuse in remission, and reduced right-eye
vision. AR 55. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed
impairment. AR 55-56. He noted that Plaintiff had moderate
restrictions in activities of daily living, social
functioning, and concentration, persistence, or pace. AR 56.
He found no episodes of decompensation for an extended
duration while Plaintiff complied with medical advice.
those impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: he is able to
perform simple, routine tasks not requiring binocular vision,
with occasional contact with coworkers and
supervisors.” AR 57.
on this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform his
past relevant work as a warehouse worker, as his employer had
accommodated his vision problems. AR 65. In the alternative,
the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to find that
Plaintiff could perform the requirements of representative
unskilled occupations including vegetable harvester and
grocery bagger. Id. Noting that Plaintiff could
perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was therefore
not disabled. Id.
Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision,
which became the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-5;
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1584.
Plaintiff then sought review in this Court. Dkt. 1.
argues that the ALJ improperly (1) rejected the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, (2) discredited
testimony by Plaintiff and statements from his wife, and (3)
failed to base his step two and RFC findings on substantial
evidence. See Joint Stipulation (“JS”)
at 2. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that
the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasons for rejecting
the treating psychiatrist's opinion but validly
discredited Plaintiff's testimony and his wife's
statements. Because the Court finds that the ALJ's error
warrants remand, it does not reach whether substantial
evidence supported the RFC findings.
Plaintiff's Treating Psychiatrist
Solomon Mirakhor saw Plaintiff sixteen times between February
16, 2012 and January 9, 2014. AR 295-314, 362-73. The record
includes five medical source statements from Dr. Mirakhor. On
December 5, 2011, he stated that Plaintiff had a chronic and
lifelong mental impairment that rendered him unable to work.
AR 374. On May 31, 2012, he noted that Plaintiff had a panic
disorder without agoraphobia and a major depressive disorder
with psychotic features. AR 292. Dr. Mirakhor opined that
Plaintiff was making “good progress” in
functioning and taking his medication, that he had
“good” abilities to carry out simple and complex
instructions, maintain concentration, and perform activities
within a regular schedule, and that he had “fair”
abilities to complete a normal work schedule and respond
appropriately to changes in a work setting. AR 294.
September 24, 2012, Dr. Mirakhor noted that Plaintiff had
seventeen signs and symptoms of mental impairments,
Plaintiff's prognosis was guarded, and he would likely
miss more than three days of work per month due to his mental
impairments. AR 284-87. Dr. Mirakhor also determined that
Plaintiff had “fair” abilities, meaning that his
“[a]bility to function in this area is significantly
limited . . . but not precluded” in fifteen work
functioning areas and that he had “[n]o useful ability
to function” in five other work functioning areas. AR
287-90. On May 8, 2014, Dr. Mirakhor found that Plaintiff was
“markedly limited” in both his ability to
withstand work pressure and interact with supervisors,
co-workers, and the public. AR 376. He also found that
Plaintiff was “moderately limited” in his ability
to carry out simple and complex instructions and concentrate
for two-hour increments. AR 376. In a medical opinion from
May 8, 2014, Dr. Mirakhor determined that Plaintiff was
precluded from working fifteen percent or more of an
eight-hour workday in 24 areas of work functioning. AR 378.
The VE at Plaintiff's hearing testified that such
limitations would preclude all work. AR 37-39.
Lee, a consulting examiner, conducted a psychiatric
examination of Plaintiff on April 22, 2012. AR 276. His notes
include Plaintiff's report of “a long history of
anxiety, anger issues, mood swings, and irritability”
and monthly appointments with Dr. Mirakhor. Id.
Plaintiff also reported experimenting with “marijuana
and amphetamines around the age of 18, ” and that
“he had ‘a bad trip' . . . and he experienced
vivid hallucinations, both visual and auditory, as well as
intense paranoid delusions . . . .” AR 277. Plaintiff
told Dr. Lee that he feared that this “damaged [his]
brain.” Id. He further reported that he had
been “sober from marijuana and amphetamines for the
past ‘several years, '” and had not been to a
drug rehabilitation program. Id. Dr. Lee noted that
“[t]here was no evidence that the [Plaintiff] was under
the influence of illicit substances during this
interview.” AR 278. He also documented reports of
frequent “vivid auditory and visual hallucinations
since the age of 18, ” as recently as two weeks before
the examination. AR 279.
diagnosed Plaintiff with a psychotic disorder not otherwise
specified and drug abuse in remission. AR 280. He determined
that the symptoms were “relatively mild-to-moderate,
” the problem was “treatable, ” and the
likelihood of recovery was “fair-to-good.” AR
280. He opined that Plaintiff's “psychiatric
symptoms are related to his history of amphetamine abuse,
even though [Plaintiff] reports that he has been sober for
several years.” AR 280. He found Plaintiff mildly
impaired in his ability to interact with supervisors,
co-workers, and the public, work consistently without special
instructions, maintain ...