United States District Court, E.D. California
CAROLYN K. DELANEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying an
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“Act”). For the reasons discussed below, the
court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
and grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary
born April 4, 1979, applied on November 13, 2012 for SSI,
alleging disability beginning July 31, 2011. Administrative
Transcript (“AT”) 184. Plaintiff alleged she was
unable to work due to chest pain, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea,
depression, degenerative disk disease, degenerative joint
disease, depression, anxiety, difficulty walking, panic
attacks, chest pain, and headaches. AT 116. In a decision
dated February 20, 2015, the ALJ determined that plaintiff
was not disabled. AT 20-29. The ALJ made the following
findings (citations to 20 C.F.R. omitted):
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 31, 2011, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
affective disorder and anxiety disorder.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: frequent interaction with the public, co-workers
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a home attendant. This work does not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's residual functional capacity.
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from July 31, 2011, through the
date of this decision.
argues that the ALJ committed the following errors in finding
plaintiff not disabled: (1) the ALJ improperly weighed the
medical evidence; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to find that
plaintiff suffered from severe physical impairments at Step
Two; and (3) the ALJ improperly discounted plaintiff's
court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the
record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more
than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.
Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir.
2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d
625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart,
400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is
responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts
in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.”
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001) (citations omitted). “The court will uphold the
ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v.
Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).
record as a whole must be considered, Howard v.
Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986), and both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the ALJ's conclusion weighed. See Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court
may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a
specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.;
see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th
Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the
administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence
supporting a finding of either disability or nondisability,
the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v.
Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may
be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied
in weighing the evidence. See Burkhart v. Bowen, 856
F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).
asserts that the ALJ failed to properly credit the opinions
of her treating physician, Dr. Bass, with respect to her
physical abilities and limitations. Plaintiff further asserts
that the ALJ failed to credit Dr. Bass and two other
physicians with respect to her mental limitations.
weight given to medical opinions depends in part on whether
they are proffered by treating, examining, or non-examining
professionals. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). Ordinarily, more weight is given to the
opinion of a treating professional, who has a greater
opportunity to know and observe the patient as an individual.
Id.; Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1285
(9th Cir. 1996).
evaluate whether an ALJ properly rejected a medical opinion,
in addition to considering its source, the court considers
whether (1) contradictory opinions are in the record, and (2)
clinical findings support the opinions. An ALJ may reject an
uncontradicted opinion of a treating or examining medical
professional only for “clear and convincing”
reasons. Lester, 81 F.3d at 831. In contrast, a
contradicted opinion of a treating or examining professional
may be rejected for “specific and legitimate”
reasons, that are supported by substantial evidence.
Id. at 830. While a treating professional's
opinion generally is accorded superior weight, if it is
contradicted by a supported examining professional's
opinion (e.g., supported by different independent clinical
findings), the ALJ may resolve the conflict. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing
Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir.
1989)). In any event, the ALJ need not give weight to
conclusory opinions supported by minimal clinical findings.
Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999)
(treating physician's conclusory, minimally supported
opinion rejected); see also Magallanes, 881 F.2d at
751. The opinion of a non-examining professional, without
other evidence, is insufficient to reject the opinion of a
treating or examining professional. Lester, 81 F.3d
July 2014 letter report to the ALJ, Dr. Bass stated that he
had treated plaintiff for several years. AT 368. He cited
“numerous medical problems, including spine
degeneration, fibromyalgia, hypertension, hyperlipidemia,
severe allergies, and trama-induced psychiatric
symptoms.” AT 368. As to physical impairments, Dr. Bass
reported that plaintiff had “degenerative spine disease
in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions, as well as
scoliosis.” AT 369. He reported arthritis and neck and
back pain, the latter stemming in part from a 2013 motor
vehicle accident. AT 369. Dr. Bass also reported that
plaintiff suffered pain in both knees, ...