United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
NOS. 31, 32
VAN KEULEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
appeals from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying his application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). For the reasons discussed below,
the Court remands the case for further proceedings.
filed an application for SSI in 2014, alleging disability
beginning November 27, 2013. See Dkt. 28
(Administrative Record (“AR”)) 466-468. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
and issued an unfavorable decision on January 19, 2017. AR
13-33. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: psoriatic arthritis, sacroiliitis, and obesity.
AR 18. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments. AR 20. The
ALJ then determined that Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) limited him to light work with
additional limitations. Id. The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of
performing past relevant work as a graphic designer, as well
as other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. AR 26.
the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff sought review in
this Court. Dkt. 1 (Complaint). In accordance with Civil
Local Rule 16-5, the parties filed cross-motions for summary
judgment (Dkt. 31, 32), which are now ready for decision
without oral argument.
ISSUE FOR REVIEW
the ALJ err in assigning more weight to the opinions of the
non- examining state consultants, the examining state
consultants, and the medical expert than that of
Plaintiff's two treating rheumatologists (Drs. Wahl and
Margaretten) and his primary care physician (Dr. Kimberg)?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court has the authority to review the Commissioner's
decision to deny disability benefits, but “a federal
court's review of Social Security determinations is quite
limited.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d
487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Federal courts “leave it to the ALJ to
determine credibility, resolve conflicts in the testimony,
and resolve ambiguities in the record.”
Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted).
Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is
not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on
the application of improper legal standards. Id. at
492. “Under the substantial-evidence standard, a court
looks to an existing administrative record and asks whether
it contains sufficient evidence to support the agency's
factual determinations, ” and this threshold is
“not high.” Biestek v. Berryhill, --
U.S. --, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal quotation
marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Rounds
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002
(9th Cir. 2015) (“Substantial evidence” means
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”) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). The Court “must
consider the evidence as a whole, weighing both the evidence
that supports and the evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner's conclusion.” Rounds, 807
F.3d at 1002 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Court must uphold the ALJ's findings
if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
the ALJ commits legal error, the ALJ's decision will be
upheld if the error is harmless. Brown-Hunter, 806
F.3d at 492. But “[a] reviewing court may not make
independent findings based on the evidence before the ALJ to
conclude that the ALJ's error was harmless.”
Id. The Court is “constrained to review the
reasons the ALJ asserts.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
challenges the ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence.
In social security disability cases, “[t]he ALJ must
consider all medical opinion evidence.” Tommasetti
v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008).
Generally, the opinion of a treating physician is entitled to
more weight than the opinion of an examining physician, and
more weight is given to the opinion of an examining physician
than a non-examining physician. Ghanim v. Colvin,
763 F.3d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 2014). Where a treating
physician's opinion is “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence” in the record, it must be given controlling
weight. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). The ALJ must provide
clear and convincing reasons, supported by substantial
evidence, for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of
treating physicians. Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1160;
see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th
Cir. 2002) (holding that ALJ can reject uncontradicted
treating physician's opinion “by setting out a
detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting
medical evidence, stating his own interpretation thereof, and
making findings”) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). Where contradicted, the opinion of
treating physicians may be rejected only for “specific
and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial
evidence.” Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1160.
cited two reasons for giving the opinions of Plaintiff's
three treating physicians, Drs. Wahl, Margaretten, and
Kimberg, “little weight”: (1) the treating
physicians' opinions “provide drastically different
limitations despite being formulated in relative proximity to
each other when the claimant's condition would not have
notably changed”; ...