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Parra v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

January 3, 2020

SABRINA M. PARRA, Plaintiff,


          VIRGINIA K. DEMARCHI United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Sabrina M. Parra appeals a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 18, 22.

         Ms. Parra contends that the Commissioner's denial of benefits reflects multiple errors: (1) improper weighting of medical opinions or statements from Ms. Parra's treating, examining, and non-examining physicians concerning her ability to reach; (2) improper finding that Ms. Parra's testimony was not entirely credible or consistent with the record; and (3) incorrect assessment of the testimony of the vocational expert.

         The matter was submitted without oral argument. Upon consideration of the moving and responding papers and the relevant evidence of record, for the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Ms. Parra's motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Parra seeks disability benefits beginning December 10, 2013. AR 17-18. She applied for benefits on January 22, 2015. AR 185-88. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing and issued an unfavorable decision on September 29, 2017. AR 15-23. The ALJ found that Ms. Parra had the following severe impairments: obesity, rotator cuff partial tear, and lumbar degenerative disc disease. AR 18. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Parra did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. Id. The ALJ then determined that Ms. Parra's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) limited her to light work, except that she could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, that she could sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours each, that she could push and pull as much as she could lift and carry, and that she could frequently reach overhead and in other directions with her right arm. AR 18-20. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Parra was not disabled because she was capable of performing jobs that exist in the national economy, such as a copy machine operator, housekeeping/cleaner, and cafeteria attendant. AR 22-23.

         The Appeals Council denied Ms. Parra's request for review of the ALJ's decision. AR 1- 3. Ms. Parra filed this action on October 10, 2018. Dkt. No. 1.


         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has the authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995). In this context, the term “substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance-it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion.” Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Where evidence exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.


         A. Evaluation of Medical Source Opinions

         Ms. Parra contends that the ALJ erred in discounting or rejecting Dr. Eduardo Lin's opinion as well as the portions of the opinions of Drs. Farah Rana, F. Greene, and G. Lee concerning Ms. Parra's ability to reach.

         1. Treating physician Eduardo Lin, M.D.

         The ALJ found Dr. Eduardo Lin's opinion “overly restrictive and inconsistent with the evidence of record as a whole.” AR 21. Ms. Parra argues that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to Dr. Lin's opinion on Ms. Parra's restrictions in his medical source statement. Dkt. No. 18 at 8-10.

         Dr. Lin provided treatment to Ms. Parra from February 20, 2014 to September 24, 2014 in connection with her claim for workers' compensation. AR 21, 301-34. In September 2014, Dr. Lin provided a medical source statement diagnosing Ms. Parra with a lumbosacral disc injury and a right shoulder rotator cuff injury that caused her pain in her shoulder, back, and leg, which was temporarily relieved by Vicodin and Lyrica medication. AR 425-28. He noted that she experienced muscle spasms and weakness and cited the results of MRIs taken of her shoulder and back. AR 425. Dr. Lin also noted that Ms. Parra experienced depression, decreased energy, and sleep disturbance, and that her pain and other symptoms were constantly severe enough to interfere with attention and concentration needed to perform even simple work tasks. AR 426.

         With respect to Ms. Parra's functional limitations, Dr. Lin opined that she could only sit for an hour at a time and stand for 15 minutes at a time, and that in total during an eight-hour workday, she could only sit, stand, or walk for two hours each. Id. Dr. Lin stated that Ms. Parra needed to walk every 20 minutes for 10-15 minutes, and that she needed a job that permitted shifting from sitting, standing, or walking at will due to her pain, muscle weakness, and chronic fatigue. AR 426-27. Dr. Lin also stated that Ms. Parra needed to take unscheduled breaks to rest on average for 60 minutes before she was able to return to work. AR 427. Additionally, Dr. Lin opined that Ms. Parra could never look down and could only rarely turn her head right or left, look up, or hold her head in a static position. Id. With respect to her postural limitations, Dr. Lin opined that Ms. Parra could never twist, stoop, crouch, squat, or climb ladders or stairs. Id. Finally, Dr. Lin stated that Ms. Parra was only capable of using her right hand to grasp, turn, or twist objects, her right fingers for fine manipulations, and her right arm for reaching 10% of the time each. AR 428.

         A treating physician's opinion is entitled to “controlling weight” if it “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence” in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) (2016).[2] “However, ‘[t]he ALJ need not accept the opinion of any physician, including a treating physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings.'” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1228 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         When an ALJ gives a treating physician's opinion less than controlling weight, the ALJ must do two things. First, the ALJ must consider other factors, including the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, supportability, consistency with the record, and specialization of the physician. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 675 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6)). Consideration must also be given to other factors, whether raised by the claimant or by others, or if known to the ALJ, including the amount of relevant evidence supporting the opinion and the quality of the explanation provided; the degree of understanding a physician has of the Commissioner's disability programs and their evidentiary requirements; and the degree of his or her familiarity with other information in the case record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(6) (2016); Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007). The failure to consider these factors, by itself, constitutes reversible error. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 676.

         Second, the ALJ must provide reasons for rejecting or discounting the treating physician's opinion. The legal standard that applies to the ALJ's proffered reasons depends on whether or not the treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another physician. When a treating physician's opinion is not contradicted by another physician, the ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for rejecting or discounting the opinion, supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 675. When a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another physician, an ALJ must provide “specific and legitimate reasons” for rejecting or discounting the treating physician's opinion, supported by substantial evidence. Id. “The ALJ can meet this burden by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotations and citation omitted).

         With respect to the ALJ's first responsibility-consideration of other factors-the ALJ did not consider all the factors he was required to consider under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c) (“Unless we give a treating source's medical opinion controlling weight under paragraph (c)(2) of this section, we consider all of the following factors in deciding the weight we give to any medical opinion.”) (emphasis added); see also Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1161 (9th Cir. 2014) (“The ALJ is required to consider the factors set out in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6) in determining how much weight to afford the treating physician's medical opinion.”). Although the ALJ noted that Dr. Lin was Ms. Parra's workers' compensation doctor and that Dr. Lin was not a psychologist, he did not otherwise discuss the length or extent of the treatment relationship, the frequency of examination, or Dr. Lin's specialization. AR 21. As a result, it is unclear to what extent, if any, ...

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