United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
SAGAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
reasons discussed below, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant
to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this matter is
remanded for further administrative action consistent with
January 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review
of the denial of her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits. (Docket Entry No. 1). The parties have consented to
proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 14-15). On June 24, 2019, Defendant
filed an Answer along with the Administrative Record
(“AR”). (Docket Entry Nos. 18-19). On September
23, 2019, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint
Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions
regarding Plaintiff's claims. (Docket Entry No. 20).
Court has taken this matter under submission without oral
argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15.
AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
February 8, 2017, Plaintiff, formerly employed at
attorneys' offices and an accounting office as a customer
service administrator (see AR 55-61, 242, 250-53),
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
alleging an inability to work because of a disabling
condition since January 1, 2015. (See AR 196-99).
12, 2018, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”),
Daniel Benjamin, heard testimony from Plaintiff (represented
by counsel) and vocational expert June Hagen. (See
AR 38-85). On July 27, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Plaintiff's application. (See AR 18-29).
Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found at
step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 1, 2015. (AR 20). At step two,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments -- “degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
with radiculopathy; and a history of right hand injury,
trigger finger with surgical release in 2015 and 2017.”
(AR 20-21). At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the
listed impairments. (AR 23).
then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced
range of light work with the following limitations: can
balance, climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel crouch and
crawl occasionally; cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds,
or be exposed to unprotected heights or moving machinery
parts; can reach with bilateral upper extremities frequently;
can reach overhead with bilateral upper extremities
occasionally; and can handle and finger with right dominant
upper extremity frequently. (AR 23-28).
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform
past relevant work as a secretary as generally performed (AR
28), and therefore found that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 29).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
November 30, 2018. (See AR 1-5). Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if
it is free of legal error and supported by substantial
evidence. See Brewes v. Comm'r, 682 F.3d 1157,
1161 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” is
more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a
finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole,
weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.”
Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir.
2001)(internal quotation omitted). As a result, “[i]f
the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the
ALJ's conclusion, [a court] may not substitute [its]
judgment for that of the ALJ.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006).
alleges that the ALJ erred in failing to properly: (1) reject
the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and other
medical providers, rely on the opinions of the State Agency
Medical physician, and consider the impact of Plaintiff's
impairments (mitral and pulmonic valve disease, thyroid
disease, hyperlipidemia, history of leg surgery, history of
low blood pressure, sleep apnea) on the RFC; (2) assess
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; (3) assess
third party testimony; and (4) determine Plaintiff's
ability to perform past relevant work or full-time work.
(See Joint Stip. at 3-12, 18-25, 28-35).
consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's first claim of error with respect to the
ALJ's rejection of the opinion of Plaintiff's
treating physician warrants a remand for further
consideration. Since the Court is remanding the matter based
on Plaintiff's first claim of error, the Court will not
address Plaintiff's other claims of error.
The ALJ Improperly Rejected the Opinion of Plaintiff's
Treating Physician, Gary Pang, M.D.
asserts that the ALJ failed to properly reject the opinions
of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Pang, and of
Plaintiff's “other medical providers.”
(See Joint Stip. at 4-5, 7-10, 12,
19).Defendant asserts that the ALJ properly
assessed the opinion of Dr. Pang. (See Joint Stip.
must take into account all medical opinions of record. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(b). “Generally, a treating
physician's opinion carries more weight than an examining
physician's, and an examining physician's opinion
carries more weight than a reviewing physician's.”
Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1202 (9th Cir.
2001); see also Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830-31 (9th Cir. 1995). The medical opinion of a treating
physician is given “controlling weight” so long
as it “is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the
claimant's] case record.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2). “When a treating doctor's opinion
is not controlling, it is weighted according to factors such
as the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency
of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship, supportability, and consistency of the
record.” Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648,
654 (9th Cir. 2017); see also 20 C.F.R. §
treating or examining doctor's opinion is not
contradicted by another doctor, the ALJ can reject the
opinion only for “clear and convincing reasons.”
Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th
Cir 2008); Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. If the treating
or examining doctor's opinion is contradicted by another
doctor, the ALJ must provide “specific and legitimate
reasons” for rejecting the opinion. Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007); Reddick
v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998);
Lester, supra. “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.”
Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 675 (9th Cir.
2017)(citation omitted). Finally, an ALJ may reject an
opinion of any physician that is conclusory, brief, and
unsupported by clinical findings. Bayliss v.
Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2015);
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir.
2002); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149
(9th Cir. 2001).
Pang, M.D., at University Pain Consultants, treated Plaintiff
from November 27, 2017 to June 4, 2018, which included
physical examinations on six occasions (November 27, 2017,
December 27, 2017, April 9, 2018, ...