United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER ON SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL
matter is before the court on Debra May Arnold's
(“claimant”) request for judicial review of an
unfavorable decision regarding her application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits. At a hearing
on July 8, 2019, we heard argument from the parties. We have
reviewed the record, administrative transcript, briefs of the
parties, and applicable law, and have considered arguments
made at the hearing. For the reasons stated in this order, we
vacate the administrative decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration and remand this case for
further proceedings before the Administrative Law Judge
remand because the ALJ did not explain what weight she gave
the opinion of Dr. Gebreegziabher or explain why such weight
was appropriate. Dr. Gebreegziabher, a treating physician and
cardiac specialist, opined that claimant's cardiac
impairment rendered her unable to occasionally lift 20 pounds
or frequently lift 10 pounds. AR 650. The record contains
extensive documentation of Dr. Gebreegziabher's meetings
with claimant and the treatment she received under Dr.
Gebreegziabher's care. See AR 468-78, 498-501,
545-46, 552-55, 565. The ALJ does not explicitly recognize
that Dr. Gebreegziabher is a treating physician and cardiac
specialist, state how much weight Dr. Gebreegziabher's
opinion was given, or sufficiently explain why his opinion
was weighted differently than any other medical opinion.
See AR 27. Instead, the ALJ characterizes Dr.
Gebreegziabher's opinion as follows:
The record also contains a statement by Dr. Gebreegziabher.
This report indicates the claimant has some limitations from
palpitations, dyspnea, and chest pain. She has frequent PVCs
and is on medical therapy for ventricular premature
contractions. The report fails to provide further information
and only directs the reader to the medical record for support
(see [AR 650]). I have reviewed the cardiology
records and find this January 6, 2017 report provides no
additional insight into the claimant's cardiac
complaints. Nonetheless, I gave due consideration to the
claimant's cardiac symptoms and the residual functional
capacity reflects exertional limitations with these in mind.
However, I do not find the claimant's cardiac complaints
cause more than minimal limitations to her ability to perform
case, Dr. Gebreegziabher's opinion was contradicted by an
examining professional's opinion. Thus, Dr.
Gebreegziabher's opinion may only be rejected by the ALJ
for “specific and legitimate” reasons. See
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995).
Additionally, the ALJ must consider the listed factors for
medical opinions in 20 CFR § 404.1527(c). These factors
include treatment relationship, the extent to which the
opinion is supported by the evidence, and whether the medical
source is a specialist.
an explanation of the weight the ALJ placed on Dr.
Gebreegziabher's opinion, we cannot do our job as a
reviewing court. Here, it appears that the ALJ failed
sufficiently to evaluate and weigh Dr. Gebreegziabher's
opinion. This was legal error.
error is not harmless. Dr. Gebreegziabher's opinion is
that claimant should have limitations beyond what the ALJ
ultimately found. Although the ALJ limited claimant to
“have no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants,
never operate a motor vehicle as a job task, or be exposed to
extreme cold, ” these limitations do not necessarily
address the issues identified by Dr. Gebreegziabher. In the
absence of any explanation from the ALJ, we are unable to say
that Dr. Gebreegziabher's opinion is not in conflict with
the ALJ's residual functional capacity determination.
cites Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747 (9th Cir.
1989), in arguing that the ALJ can disregard a treating
physician's opinion if it is brief and conclusory
“with little in the way of clinical findings” to
support the physician's opinion. Id. at 751
(quoting Young v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 963, 968 (9th
Cir. 1986)). However, this case is more analogous to
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995 (9th Cir. 2014),
because the ALJ did not offer specific and legitimate reasons
supported by substantial evidence for rejecting Dr.
Gebreegziabher's opinion. In Garrison, the court
reviewed the ALJ's evaluation of a medical opinion by a
treating physician, Dr. Wang, and found that the ALJ had
committed a number of errors, including ignoring treatment
records, reports, and medical tests; failing to recognize
that the treating physician's opinion on a short
questionnaire was based upon significant experience with the
claimant; failing to compare Dr. Wang's records to other
medical evidence; and failing to afford a treating physician
the deference to which he was entitled under regulations and
case law. See Id. at 1013.
Dr. Wang in the Garrison case, Dr. Gebreegziabher in
this case offered treatment records and notes to support his
short-form opinion. Further, the ALJ does not explicitly
compare Dr. Gebreegziabher's records with other medical
evidence. In her evaluation of claimant's alleged
irregular heartbeat, the ALJ cites to Dr.
Gebreegziabher's diagnoses, but fails to explain (1) how
Dr. Gebreegziabher's records support or contradict the
other medical evidence or (2) the degree to which the
doctor's records align with claimant's symptoms.
See AR 21. The ALJ failed to explain what weight and
deference, if any, that she gave to Dr. Gebreegziabher's
opinion as a treating physician and cardiac specialist.
See AR 27. Thus, the ALJ committed error by
disregarding Dr. Gebreegziabher's opinion, and that error
is not harmless because: (1) the ALJ provided no valid
reasons for affording his opinion little or no weight; and,
(2) if his opinion had been more heavily weighted, it could
have changed the RFC determination. See Fry v.
Berryhill, 749 Fed.Appx. 659, 661 (9th Cir. 2019)
(“Although the ALJ did not explain how Fry's travel
to Colorado and joining a gym conflicted with Dr. Loli's
and Mr. Jorgensen's opinions, the error was harmless
because the ALJ provided other valid reasons for affording
their opinions little weight.”); see also Hughes v.
Colvin, 599 Fed.Appx. 765, 766 (9th Cir. 2015) (finding
harmless error because claimant “has not identified any
additional limitations the ALJ should have imposed in light
of Dr. Caverly's GAF score”).
clerk of court is directed to enter judgment in favor of
claimant Debra May Arnold and against defendant Commissioner
of Social Security, and to close this case.
 If the ALJ intended to credit Dr.
Wagner's opinion over that of Dr. Gebreegziabher without
further explanation, that would appear to conflict with Ninth
Circuit precedent, see Garrison v. Colvin, 759 ...