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Callahan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 29, 2018

ANTHONY LEE CALLAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN L. STEVENSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Anthony Lee Callahan (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on June 22, 2017, seeking review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Dkt. No. 1.) The parties have consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11-13.) On February 26, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation. (Dkt. No. 19 (“Joint Stip.”).) Plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding the matter for further proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 29.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, that the matter be remanded for further proceedings. (Id. at 29-31.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On July 23, 2013, Plaintiff, who was born on August 28, 1985[1], protectively filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 11, 145-50.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing on January 31, 2009 due to depression; bipolar disorder; problems with his knees, back, and lungs; attention deficit disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; paranoia; and panic attacks. (AR 63, 76.) After the application was denied initially (AR 62) and on reconsideration (AR 89), Plaintiff requested a hearing (AR 102). On January 26, 2016, at a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother, and a vocational expert. (AR 28-61.) On March 8, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (AR 11-23.) On April 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-3.)

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date and had the following severe impairments: affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (AR 13.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (AR 14.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations:

Plaintiff was limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional coworker contact and no public interaction. (AR 15.) Although Plaintiff had no past relevant work (AR 21), the ALJ found, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Plaintiff could perform other work in the national economy, specifically, the occupations of hand packager; inspector and hand packager; and addresser (AR 22). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 23.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or that, despite the legal error, ‘the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges the following two errors: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence, specifically, the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and a state agency psychologist; and (2) the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. (Joint Stip. at 3.) As discussed below, the Court concludes that the treating physician issue from Issue One warrants reversal of the ALJ's decision.

         I. Medical Opinion Evidence (Issue One)

         In Issue One, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and a state agency psychologist. (Joint Stip. at 3-11.)

         A. Applicable Law

         The opinion of a treating source is generally entitled to greater weight than the opinion of doctors who do not treat the claimant because treating sources are “most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture” of a claimant's medical impairments and bring a perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from objective medical findings alone. See Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2). To reject an uncontradicted opinion of a treating physician, the ALJ must provide “clear and convincing reasons that are supported by substantial evidence.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1160-61 (9th Cir. 2014). If, however, the treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another medical source, the ALJ must consider the factors set out in 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2)-(6) in determining how much weight to accord it. These factors include the “[l]ength of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination” by the treating physician, the “[n]ature and extent of the treatment relationship” between the patient and the treating physician, the “[s]upportability” of the ...


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