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Alejandro R. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

September 11, 2019

ALEJANDRO R., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS F. MCCORMICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Alejandro R. (“Plaintiff) appeals from the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).[1] The Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 25, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning February 8, 2013. See Administrative Record (“AR”) 180-82. After being denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). See AR 25. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on May 17, 2016. See AR 43-79. On August 19, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff ineligible for disability benefits. See AR 19-42.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation with pacemaker implantation; cervical facet syndrome with multi-level protrusions and annular tear; lumbar spondylosis with multi-level protrusions, radiculitis and facet syndrome; hypertension; obesity; major depressive disorder; general anxiety disorder; agoraphobia with panic disorder; and adjustment disorder. See AR 27. The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following restrictions:

He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid working around unprotected heavy machinery or unprotected heights. He can understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions. He can maintain attention and concentration to perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. He can have occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, and no direct interaction with the general public. He can work in an environment with occasional changes to the work setting and occasional work-related decision making.

AR 30. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform several jobs at the light, unskilled level: garment sorter, assembler, and electronics worker. See AR 36. Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. See AR 37.

         The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, which became the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-8. This action followed. See Dkt. 1.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) improperly discounted or disregarded evidence of Plaintiffs spinal, cardiac, and mental impairments, (2) improperly discounted his subjective symptom testimony, and (3) failed to credit testimony from Plaintiffs wife. See Dkt. 24, Joint Stipulation (“ JS”).

         A. Evidence of Plaintiffs Impairments

         1. Spinal Impairment

         The ALJ gave “little weight” to the opinions of Plaintiff s treating physicians, Dr. David Shawa and Dr. Adam Wietzman. See AR 33-34. The ALJ reasoned that their assessments were not consistent with their own treatment notes. See AR 33. The ALJ also noted that their assessments were made in the workers' compensation context and thus may not be impartial, and also consisted of opinions about whether Plaintiff was disabled, a matter reserved for the Commissioner. See AR 34.

         Where, as here, a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another doctor, an ALJ may reject it for “specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Carmickle v. Comm'r, SSA, 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008). An ALJ “need not accept the opinion of any physician, including a treating physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and ...


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