United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. SCOTT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Brooke Catherine S. (“Plaintiff”) applied for
Titles II and XVI disability benefits in October 2015
alleging disability on August 16, 2015, due to various mental
disorders. Administrative Record (“AR”) 207-19,
248-58. On February 8, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff,
who was represented by an attorney, appeared and testified,
as did a vocational expert (“VE”). AR 33-75. On
March 28, 2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR
12-32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of “cervical spine sprain/strain; lumbar
spine/strain; major depressive disorder; panic disorder;
post-traumatic stress disorder; obsessive compulsive
disorder; and borderline personality disorder.” AR 18.
The ALJ concluded that despite these impairments, Plaintiff
had a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform medium work with the following non-exertional
limitations: “is limited to work involving simple
repetitive tasks; and is limited to work involving no more
than occasional contact with co-workers and the
public.” AR 21.
on this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a
retail clerk or bank teller, but she could perform the jobs
of packer (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
[“DOT”] 920.587-018) and kitchen helper (DOT
318.687-010). AR 26. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 27.
appeal presents the sole issue of whether the ALJ gave
specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the opinions
of examining psychologist Dr. Helayna Taylor. (Dkt. 18, Joint
Stipulation [“JS”] at 4.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's
findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from
legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based
on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401;
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th
Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035
(citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880,
882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial
evidence supports a finding, the district court “must
review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). “If the
evidence can reasonably support either affirming or
reversing, ” the reviewing court “may not
substitute its judgment” for that of the Commissioner.
Id. at 720-21.
deciding how to resolve conflicts between medical opinions,
the ALJ must consider that there are three types of
physicians who may offer opinions in Social Security cases:
(1) those who directly treated the plaintiff, (2) those who
examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and (3) those who
did not treat or examine the plaintiff. See Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). A treating
physician's opinion is generally entitled to more weight
than that of an examining physician, which is generally
entitled to more weight than that of a non-examining
physician. Id. If the treating physician's
opinion is uncontroverted by another doctor, it may be
rejected only for “clear and convincing” reasons.
Id. The ALJ must give specific and legitimate
reasons for rejecting a treating physician's opinion in
favor of a non-treating physician's contradictory opinion
or an examining physician's opinion in favor of a
non-examining physician's opinion. Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007).
the opinion of Dr. H. Taylor was contradicted by the opinions
of the state agency doctors (see AR 76-101), meaning
that the dispositive question is whether the ALJ gave
“specific, legitimate reasons” for discounting
Dr. Taylor's opinions.
SUMMARY OF RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
administrative record generally contains the following
evidence of Plaintiffs mental illness and the functional
limitations it causes:
(1) Records from treating psychiatrist Dr. Weiming David Chu
(AR 353-89, 397-430, 440-75, 696-742);
(2) Questionnaire completed by treating psychiatrist Terrance
Taylor (AR 390-94);
(3) Handwritten notes from therapist Gail Benge (AR 647-95);
(4) December 2016 records from Hoag Hospital (AR 621-46);
(5) 2015 function reports by Plaintiff (AR 282-90) and her
adoptive mother (AR 291-98);
(6) Psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Helayna Taylor (AR 486-93);
(7) 2010-2012 treatment records from Orange County Behavioral
Health Services (AR 497-620); and
(8) Opinions by non-examining state agency consultants Drs.
Tawnya Brode (AR 95-99) and Dan Funkenstein (AR 109-16).
Dr. Chu's Records.
following summary of Dr. Chu's records is presented in
6/24/14: This was Plaintiffs first appointment with Dr. Chu.
AR 384. A mental status examination (“MSE”)
revealed a “depressed” but
“cooperative” mood with “fair”
insight and judgment and no suicidal ideations. AR 385.
Plaintiffs symptoms included “dysfunction in career,
social interactions, family interactions, romantic
relationships.” Id Plaintiff was already
taking Effexor (the brand name for venlafaxine hydrochloride)
and started Adderall. AR 386.
7/15/14: Plaintiff reported nausea since starting Adderall.
She also reported that Adderall was helping her focus, and
she needed to focus and do well at her new bank job. Her mood
was “sad, hopeless.” AR 382.
7/17/14: Plaintiff continued to report nausea. She presented
with a “depressed, sad” mood. AR 380.
9/3/14: Plaintiff reported “moderate improvement”
of her symptoms, but she stopped taking Effexor to address
her nausea. AR 378.
10/6/14: Plaintiff presented for medication management with a
“happy mood, ” “good” judgment, and
“stable” symptoms. AR 376. Dr. Chu noted that she
was on Adderall, Effexor, and Acyclovir (an anti-viral drug
unrelated to Plaintiff's mental illness). AR 377.
12/29/14: The MSE notes tearfulness, poor insight, and
impaired impulse control. AR 374. Plaintiff was “unable
to concentrate and follow through w/ tasks.”
Id. She was “not doing well” and
“very depressed, ” so Dr. Chu increased Effexor
and changed her Adderall dosage. AR 375.
1/26/15: The MSE again notes tearfulness, poor insight, and
impaired impulse control. AR 372. Plaintiff was “not
doing well” and “very anxious, ” so Dr. Chu
started Propranolol. AR 373.
3/4/15: The MSE was unremarkable but for “fair to
poor” insight and judgment. AR 370. Plaintiff reported
a “slight improvement in mood” after increasing
Effexor and changing her Adderall dosage. Id.
4/7/15: The MSE was back to noting tearfulness, poor insight,
and impaired impulse control. AR 368. Plaintiff was
“not doing well, ” so Dr. Chu started Lamictal.
7/7/15: The MSE again notes tearfulness, poor insight, and
impaired impulse control. AR 366. She was still “not
doing well, ” so Dr. Chu increased Lamictal. AR 367.
8/25/15: Same MSE. AR 364. Plaintiff was “not doing
well, ” so Dr. Chu increased Pristiq. AR 365.
9/29/15: The MSE again notes tearfulness, poor insight, and
impaired impulse control. AR 362. She was still “not