United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK United States Magistrate Judge.
Ann Kammerer (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the
Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying her
application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this matter is
dismissed with prejudice.
applied for DIB on August 30, 2012, alleging a disability
beginning March 10, 2009. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 59. After Plaintiff's application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR 89-99, 101-07. On March 9, 2015, a
hearing was held in front of an ALJ. AR 26-58. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as
well as a medical expert (“ME”) and a vocational
expert (“VE”). See id.
written decision issued March 27, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim for benefits. AR 9-25. The ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff “last met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31,
2014.” AR 14. Further, based on his review of the
evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff possesses the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work . . . except she is limited to frequent
overhead reaching with the non-dominant left upper extremity.
She is capable of occasional pushing/pulling with the
non-dominant left upper extremity. Further, she is able to
perform occasional manipulation with the dominant right upper
extremity including fine fingering and handling while being
limited to less than occasional or rare manipulation with the
left upper extremity. Lastly, she is restricted from climbing
ladders, ropes or scaffolds as well as working at unprotected
heights. AR 15.
on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that through the
date last insured, Plaintiff could perform jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy, and was not
therefore disabled. AR 20-21.
requested review of the ALJ's decision. AR 7-8. The
Appeals Council denied review in July 2016, and the
unfavorable ALJ decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984. This
argues that the ALJ erred (1) in discounting the opinion of
consultative examiner, Dr. Xiao-Quan Yuan, and (2) in the
step-five analysis. Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at
3. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the
ALJ did not err in discounting Dr. Yuan's opinion, and
any step-five error was harmless.
Dr. Yuan's Opinion
argues that the ALJ erred by according little weight to Dr.
Yuan's opinion. JS at 3-8.
types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security
cases: those who treated the plaintiff, those who examined
but did not treat the plaintiff, and those who did neither.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended
Apr. 9, 1996). A treating physician's opinion is
generally entitled to more weight than an examining
physician's opinion, which is generally entitled to more
weight than a nonexamining physician's. Lester,
81 F.3d at 830. When a treating or examining physician's
opinion is uncontroverted by another doctor, it may be
rejected only for “clear and convincing reasons.”
See Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533
F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lester, 81
F.3d at 830-31). Where such an opinion is contradicted, the
ALJ must provide only “specific and legitimate
reasons” for discounting it. Id.; see also
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014).
Moreover, “[t]he 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.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947,
957 (9th Cir. 2002); accord Tonapetyan v. Halter,
242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). The weight accorded to a
physician's opinion depends on whether it is accompanied
by adequate explanation, the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, and consistency with the record as a
whole, among other things. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
Consultative Examiner Dr. Nahel Al Bouz On May 26, 2013, Dr.
Bouz, a board certified internist, examined Plaintiff at the
Social Security Administration's (“SSA”)
request. AR 628-33. Dr. Bouz observed “[r]eflex
sympathetic dystrophy of the left hand status post two carpal
tunnel surgery.” AR 632. Plaintiff had full range of
motion of the left hand but significant hyperesthesia and
weakness of the left handgrip. Id. Plaintiff was
able to make a fist and oppose all fingers with both thumbs.
regard to Plaintiff's right hand, Dr. Bouz observed
“carpal tunnel syndrome” with irritated nerves on
the right side and a positive carpel tunnel syndrome test.
Id. “[T]here was no thenar or hypothenar
muscular atrophy and [Plaintiff] was able to make a full fist
and oppose all fingers with the right thumb. She had a good
strength in the hand.” Id. Dr. Bouz also
diagnosed Plaintiff with hypertension and diabetes with
normal foot examination. Id.
on the examination, Dr. Bouz concluded that Plaintiff had
several physical limitations: she could push, pull, lift and
carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and
she could use her hands for fine and gross manipulation only
frequently. AR ...