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Korngold v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 29, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Phillip Korngold (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). (ECF No. 1).

         For the reasons expressed herein, the Court recommends the case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further analysis on the issue of whether Plaintiff's treating physician's opinions were properly discounted regarding Plaintiff's alleged impairments.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability beginning May 4, 2013. (AR 16). After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before and administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). An administrative hearing was held on December 15, 2016. Plaintiff appeared and elected to proceed without counsel, after being advised of his right to representation. (Id.). Also appearing and testifying were Dr. Joseph Gaeta, M.D., a medical expert (ME) and Gloria Lasoff a vocational expert (VE). (Id.). On March 1, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (AR 16-28).


         A. Legal Standard

         Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act allow unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of a final agency decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review is limited in that a denial of benefits will not be disturbed if it is supported by substantial evidence and contains no legal error. Id.; see also Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin, 359 F.3d 1190, 1993 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. Sandqathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997). “[I]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). If the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the ALJ's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence is inconclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the Secretary.” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982).

         Even if a reviewing court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions, the court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching his or her decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Section 405(g) permits a court to enter a judgment affirming, modifying or reversing the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing court may also remand the matter to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Id

         B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ followed the Commissioner's five step sequential evaluation process. See CFR § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 4, 2013, the alleged onset date. (AR 18)[2].

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Conn's Disease, resulting in hypertension and congestive heart failure; and coronary disease. (Id.). However, the ALJ found, based on the record, Plaintiff “had no severe medically determinable” impairment from May 4, 2013 to May 3, 2014. Accordingly, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for that timeframe at step two. (Id.). But the ALJ did find the record indicates the [Plaintiff] received treatment for the above severe impairments beginning May 4, 2014, for a period of more than 12 consecutive months. Thus, the ALJ continued his sequential analysis. (AR 19).

         According to the ALJ “the medical and other evidence that the [Plaintiff's] medically determinable impairments of dizziness, muscle spasm, glaucoma, foot and ankle edema, allergies, kidney disease, and a fractured femur and tibia cause only a slight abnormality that would have no more than ...

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