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Meyer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 2, 2018

ROBIN MICHELLE MEYER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge.

         Robin Michelle Meyer (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability benefits. Two issues are presented for decision here:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly assessed Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist's opinion (see Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) at 2-8, 13-15); and
2. Whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility (id. at 2, 16-22, 26-29).

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

         A. The ALJ Provided Specific and Legitimate Reasons for Assigning Less Weight to Dr. Essaian's Opinion

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly assessed the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Inessa Essaian. (Joint Stip. at 2-8, 13-15.)

         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 assigned “little weight” to Dr. Essaian's opinion for three reasons.

         First, as Plaintiff concedes, Dr. Essaian's opinion that Plaintiff is “permanently disabled from work” and that her “disabilities . . . prevent her from working” are issues reserved for the Commissioner. (See Joint Stip. at 5, 14; Administrative Record (“AR”) at 18, 482, 522); see also Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002, 1004 (2005) (“Although a treating physician's opinion is generally afforded the greatest weight in disability cases, it is not binding on an ALJ as to the existence of an impairment or the ultimate determination of disability.”); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(1), 416.927(d)(1) (statements by a medical source that a claimant is “disabled” or “unable to work” are “not medical opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner”); Dimasi v. Colvin, 2015 WL 5842283, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2015) (ALJ properly accorded little weight to psychiatric opinion that claimant was “unable to sustain employment” because that was an issue reserved for the Commissioner).

         Second, the ALJ could reasonably infer that Plaintiff's condition had been stable because Dr. Essaian's treatment[2] - meeting with Plaintiff and continuing the same prescription[3] - was consistent and unchanging for years. (AR at 18-19, 76-77, 482); Warre v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 439 F.3d 1001, 1006 (9th Cir. 2006) (impairments that can be controlled with treatment are not disabling); Williamson v. Berryhill, 2017 WL 3701229, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2017) (“Presumably, if [claimant]'s migraines were as disabling as she claimed, common sense dictates that she would have . . . not simply continued to take the same medication that she had been taking, which were not working, for years.”); Smith v. Astrue, 2009 WL 799174, at *12 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 24, 2009) (ALJ reasonably inferred that claimant must have experienced some improvement because she took the same medication for pain and mental health issues for two to five years; “otherwise, logic would suggest the initiation of a change in dosage, prescription, or treatment”).

         Third, Dr. Essaian's opinion conflicted with medical opinions and testimony of other doctors, including (1) psychiatric consultative examiner Pramual Pinanong, M.D., and (2) psychological medical expert Betty Borden, Ph.D. (AR at 18-19, 74-91, 500-06); see Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th Cir. 2004) (“[I]t was permissible for the ALJ to give [treating physician opinions] minimal evidentiary weight, in light of . . . opinions and observations of other doctors.”); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (reviewing court must affirm Commissioner's decision if it is based on findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence in the “record as a whole”); 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 contradicted state agency physicians' less severe limitation findings).

         Thus, the ALJ's assessment of Dr. Essaian's opinion does not warrant reversal.

         B. The ALJ Provided Clear and Convincing Reasons for Discounting Plaintiff's ...


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