Elmira Shahgaldyan v. Carolyn W. Colvin

Filing 21

MEMORANDUM AND OPINION by Magistrate Judge Victor B. Kenton re: This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Courts findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. The Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice.(rh)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA WESTERN DIVISION 7 8 9 10 11 ELMIRA SHAHGALDYAN, 12 13 14 Plaintiff, v. 15 CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 16 Defendant. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. CV 14-06503-VBK MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case) 17 18 This matter is before the Court for review of the Decision by the 19 Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff’s application for 20 disability benefits. 21 consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. 22 action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to 23 enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before 24 the Commissioner. 25 (“JS”), and the Commissioner has filed the certified Administrative 26 Record (“AR”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have The The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation 27 Plaintiff raises the following issues: 28 1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) provided any 1 2 3 4 reason for rejecting probative medical source opinions; and 2. Whether the ALJ correctly found Plaintiff did not suffer from a severe mental impairment. (JS at 3-4.) 5 6 This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court’s findings of 7 fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court 8 concludes that the decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. 9 10 I 11 THE ALJ DID NOT IMPROPERLY REJECT PROBATIVE MEDICAL SOURCE OPINIONS 12 After administrative denials and a hearing before an ALJ on 13 January 31, 2012 (AR 48-72), an unfavorable Decision was issued on May 14 17, 2012. (AR 24-38.) In finding Plaintiff to be not disabled, the ALJ 15 utilized the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process. (See 20 16 C.F.R. § 416.920.) At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff 17 suffered from medically determinable severe impairments consisting of 18 degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and diabetes mellitus, 19 type II. (AR 33, ¶ 2.) Finding at Step Three that these impairments 20 did not meet or equal any of the Listings, the ALJ assessed a residual 21 functional capacity (“RFC”) which would permit Plaintiff to lift and 22 carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; sit for about 23 six hours in an eight-hour workday; and stand and/or walk for six of 24 eight hours. (AR 34.) Comparing this RFC to the demands of Plaintiff’s 25 past relevant work (“PRW”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could 26 perform her PRW. (AR 34.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was 27 not disabled under the requirements of the Social Security Act 28 (“SSA”). (Id.) 2 1 2 The Appeals Council denied a request for review and thus, the ALJ’s Decision became the final Decision of the Commissioner. 3 Plaintiff primarily asserts that the ALJ failed to sufficiently 4 credit the conclusions of Dr. Flinders,1 an examining physician who 5 completed a Qualified Medical Evaluation (“QME”). (AR 369-376 and 376- 6 386.) 7 Plaintiff could not lift over 10 pounds or perform repetitive bending 8 or stooping (AR 372), and notes that Dr. Flinders made a similar 9 finding in a supplemental report (AR 379). Plaintiff asserts that the 10 ALJ failed to provide any reason, let alone a specific and legitimate 11 reason, to reject Dr. Flinders’ opinion. 12 Plaintiff What relies Plaintiff upon fails to Dr. Flinders’ account for initial is that opinion Dr. that Flinders 13 conducted two examinations in connection with Plaintiff’s Workers 14 Compensation claim. After the first examination, referenced above, Dr. 15 Flinders recommended that Plaintiff return to modified work activities 16 with no lifting over 10 pounds and no repetitive bending or stooping. 17 (AR 372.) 18 In a supplemental report dated December 8, 2006, Dr. Flinders 19 indicated a summary of his conclusions from the first examination. Dr. 20 Flinders performed a second examination on January 2, 2007 (AR 381- 21 385), which the ALJ directly addressed. (AR 31.) After performing a 22 complete examination, Dr. Flinders concluded that Plaintiff was in no 23 acute distress, that she could bend forward, had no muscle spasms, 24 could get on and off the examining table without discomfort or 25 assistance, and had a negative straight leg raising test. (AR 383.) He 26 concluded that Plaintiff’s MRI was “essentially normal” aside from 27 1 28 For some inexplicable reason, Plaintiff at times refers to Dr. Flinders as Dr. Fitzgerald. 3 1 some mild disc bulging at L5-S1, and that she demonstrated no evidence 2 of stenosis or nerve root compression. (AR 383.) She had normal 3 electromyography and nerve conduction velocity studies. (AR 382-383.) 4 He also concluded that Plaintiff’s subjective complaints did not 5 correlate with his clinical findings, and he concluded there was a 6 “lack 7 disability.” (AR 384.) Significantly, he stated that “there does not 8 appear to be anything wrong with [Plaintiff] other than her verbal 9 complaints, she had no residual limitation or restriction [and] no 10 disability,” and he concluded she could return to her normal and 11 regular work activities. (AR 384.) of credibility in regard to her ongoing complaints of 12 Dr. Flinders assessed that Plaintiff was without any residual 13 disability and in that conclusion he agreed with orthopedic surgeon 14 Dr. Ashford. (AR 384.) Dr. Flinders also noted (AR 381) that Dr. 15 Ashford had questioned Plaintiff’s credibility, indicating in March 16 2006 that Dr. Ashford did not see any reason for Plaintiff to be 17 having 18 Plaintiff’s MRI, which showed no nerve compression. The 19 observed that Dr. Ashford had found “0% impairment” in June 2006. (AR 20 31, 365.) 21 any Thus, kind of pain. Plaintiff’s (AR argument 362.) that Dr. the Ashford ALJ had failed reviewed A to L J provide 22 specific and legitimate reasons for “rejecting” Dr. Flinders April 23 2006 recommendations simply ignores that physician’s more recent 24 opinion that she could return to work without any limitations or 25 restrictions whatsoever, and that she was not credible with regard to 26 her complaints. (AR 384.) The ALJ’s conclusion as to Plaintiff’s RFC 27 was completely consistent with Dr. Flinders’ later findings that 28 Plaintiff was not disabled and had no restrictions on returning to 4 1 work. (AR 34, 384.) It is more than implicitly clear that Dr. Flinders 2 considered his early opinion preliminary and effectively mooted when, 3 nine months later, he found that Plaintiff had no residual limitation 4 or restriction and was without any signs of disability. (AR 384.) At 5 best, Dr. Flinders’ initial opinion was only temporary or preliminary, 6 and the ALJ rightly considered his later opinion in formulating an 7 appropriate RFC. Further, the ALJ did not rely only upon Dr. Flinders’ 8 later examination and conclusion, but also found it to be consistent 9 with opinions of consultative examiner (“CE”), Dr. Enriquez (who found 10 that Plaintiff was capable of medium work with frequent bending, 11 stooping and twisting and no other limitations [AR 32; 442, 444-448]) 12 and the opinion of State Agency physicians, which was consistent with 13 those conclusions. 14 The Court agrees, therefore, that any error that might have 15 occurred with regard to a failure to address or consider Dr. Flinders’ 16 April 2006 opinion was at most harmless error. See Molina v. Astrue, 17 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012). 18 For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds no error with regard 19 to the ALJ’s consideration of probative and relevant evidence provided 20 by the examining and non-examining medical sources. 21 22 II 23 THE ALJ CORRECTLY FOUND THAT PLAINTIFF DID NOT 24 SUFFER FROM A SEVERE MENTAL IMPAIRMENT Plaintiff alleged disability in part based on mental impairments. 25 26 (AR 142.) Plaintiff’s counsel argues 27 psychotropic medications for treatment.” (JS at 13-14, citing AR 466, 28 471, 474, 481, 491, 502, 505, 524, 602.) Counsel argues that Plaintiff 5 that she “ingests potent 1 receives psychotherapy for her treatment (AR 832), and he further 2 cites a progress note from April 14, 2011 in which there was a 3 notation that Plaintiff had a sad and dysphoric affect. (AR 817.) He 4 cites a November 2, 2010 indication by Plaintiff’s physician that she 5 was 6 severely impaired remote memory and mood swings. (AR 466.) positive for anhedonia, anxious, fearful, forgetful, having 7 The ALJ’s Decision indicates that the evidence regarding mental 8 impairment was, in fact, carefully and properly considered. (AR 28- 9 31.) Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Janoian, did diagnose 10 Plaintiff at various times with depression, anxiety and panic disorder 11 (see AR 524, 535), but the ALJ determined that these mental health 12 examinations 13 reiteration of Plaintiff’s own complaints, and were unsupported by 14 test results or clinical evidence. (AR 28-30.) Further, as the ALJ 15 noted, Dr. Janoian’s records fail to reflect psychiatric signs which 16 are necessary to establish the existence of a mental impairment. (See 17 20 C.F.R. § 416.929.) were cursory, largely reflected a repetition or 18 Further, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff’s treatment records from 19 San Fernando Mental Health Clinic (“SFMHC”) failed to demonstrate the 20 existence of severe mental impairments. (AR 29-31.) Plaintiff failed 21 to seek any treatment at this facility until seven months after she 22 had applied for SSI benefits, and over five years after her alleged 23 disability onset date. (AR 29, 118, 696, 705.) 24 In a February 2012 assessment, no functional limitations were 25 noted, and in fact it was stated that Plaintiff seemed to be feeling 26 better at this point. (AR 694-695; 29-31.) The ALJ thus concluded that 27 the SFMHC records lacked any psychiatric signs or objective evidence 28 or functional limitations and failed to demonstrate the existence of 6 1 severe mental impairments. (AR 29-31.) 2 The ALJ further considered the opinions of CE examiners Drs. 3 Singer and Colonna and a State Agency reviewing psychiatrist, Dr. 4 Johnson. (AR 29-31.) Dr. Singer examined Plaintiff in January 2011, at 5 which time she complained about depression, but the doctor concluded 6 that Plaintiff “did not appear overly depressed or anxious” and had no 7 problems performing mental status examination tasks. (AR 29, 450-451.) 8 Dr. 9 understand, remember and perform complex tasks but also concluded she 10 was unimpaired for simple tasks. (AR 29, 451.) She had no impairment 11 in her ability to relate and interact with co-workers, the public and 12 supervisors (AR 29, 451), and Dr. Singer concluded there was no 13 psychiatric basis to prevent Plaintiff from completing a full day of 14 work. (Id.) 15 Singer found Plaintiff mildly impaired in her ability to Dr. Johnson reviewed Plaintiff’s record and concluded that her 16 mental impairments 17 concluded that Plaintiff was less than fully credible and that her 18 claimed functional limitations were unsupported by any objective 19 evidence. (AR 463.) He found that Plaintiff had no restrictions in her 20 activities of daily living; no difficulties in maintaining social 21 functioning; 22 persistence or pace; and no repeated episodes of extended duration 23 decompensation. (AR 461.) mild were not severe. difficulties in (AR 30, 453.) maintaining Dr. Johnson concentration, 24 Dr. Colonna concluded in March 2012 that he had doubts about 25 Plaintiff’s credibility, finding that she was less that credible. He 26 concluded that she had only mild limitations in her ability to 27 understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions and to 28 interact appropriately with supervisors, co-workers and peers; that 7 1 she could manage her own finances and could understand, remember and 2 carry out short, simple instructions and make simplistic work-related 3 decisions without any special supervision. (AR 29-30, 752.) 4 Based on all these findings, the ALJ found Plaintiff to be not 5 credible. (AR 31-32.) Plaintiff does not raise credibility assessment 6 as an issue in this litigation. 7 After analyzing this evidence, the ALJ applied the correct review 8 technique 9 functional limitations and severity of claimed mental impairments. (AR 10 28-30.) The ALJ’s conclusions were consistent with a finding of no 11 severe 12 reasoned, 13 functional areas encompassed in the review technique, and the Court 14 finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusions that 15 Plaintiff 16 conclusions meet the requirements set out in Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 17 1271 (9th Cir. 1996). 18 19 20 as mental outlined in impairment. evidence-based did not have 20 C.F.R. (AR § 416.920a 28-31.) conclusions severe He did regarding mental to evaluate examine the impairments. The decision of the ALJ will be affirmed. and four The dismissed with prejudice. IT IS SO ORDERED. 23 DATED: June 3, 2015 /s/ VICTOR B. KENTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 24 25 26 27 28 8 make broad ALJ’s The Complaint will be 21 22 the

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