Stacy L. Fields v. Carolyn W. Colvin

Filing 22

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER by Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth. IT IS ORDERED that judgment be entered AFFIRMING the decision of the Commissioner, DENYING Plaintiff's request for remand, and DISMISSING this action with prejudice. (See Order for details) (bem)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 STACY L. FIELDS, Plaintiff, 12 13 v. 14 15 NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 16 Defendant. ) Case No. EDCV 16-0317-JPR ) ) ) MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ) AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER ) ) ) ) ) ) ) 17 18 I. PROCEEDINGS 19 Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner’s final decision 20 denying her application for Social Security disability insurance 21 benefits (“DIB”). 22 the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). 23 The matter is before the Court on the parties’ Joint Stipulation, 24 filed November 17, 2016, which the Court has taken under 25 submission without oral argument. 26 the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of 27 28 1 For the reasons stated below, 1 II. 2 BACKGROUND Plaintiff was born in 1968. 3 36.) 4 (Id.) 5 peer facilitator. 6 (Administrative Record (“AR”) She completed 12th grade and two semesters of college. She worked as a financial-services representative and a (AR 37-38.) On August 9, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that 7 she had been unable to work since March 2, 2009,1 because of 8 bipolar disorder, “[r]espitory [sic]/[o]xygen complication,” 9 arthritis, depression, anxiety, spinal stenosis, lower-back and 10 pelvic-bone pain, asthma, and persistent and uncontrollable 11 bladder leakage. 12 initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before 13 an Administrative Law Judge. 14 held on July 11, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by 15 counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. 16 In a written decision issued August 25, 2014, the ALJ found 17 Plaintiff not disabled. 18 Plaintiff sought Appeals Council review (AR 5), which was denied 19 on December 18, 2015 (AR 1-3). (AR 78-79.) After her application was denied (AR 113, 120, 126.) (AR 6-24.) A hearing was (See AR 29-77.) On September 10, 2014, This action followed. 20 21 22 23 1 24 25 26 27 28 In her Application Summary, Plaintiff alleged an onset date of March 1, 2009. (AR 170.) The ALJ used March 2, 2009, as the onset date. (AR 9.) The parties refer to both dates in their Joint Stipulation. (See J. Stip. at 2-3.) Because the ALJ applied res judicata based on previous agency denials of Plaintiff’s apparently similar applications for disability benefits and found that as a result she was ineligible for benefits before May 21, 2011 (AR 9), a finding she does not challenge, the exact onset date does not matter. 2 1 III. STANDARD OF REVIEW 2 Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the 3 Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits. The ALJ’s findings and 4 decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and 5 supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. 6 See id.; Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra 7 v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). 8 evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept 9 as adequate to support a conclusion. Substantial Richardson, 402 U.S. at 10 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). 11 It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. 12 Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. 13 Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). 14 substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court 15 “must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both 16 the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from 17 the Commissioner’s conclusion.” 18 720 (9th Cir. 1996). 19 either affirming or reversing,” the reviewing court “may not 20 substitute its judgment” for the Commissioner’s. 21 IV. To determine whether Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, “If the evidence can reasonably support Id. at 720-21. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY 22 People are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social 23 Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial 24 gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is 25 expected to result in death or has lasted, or is expected to 26 last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 27 § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 28 1992). 3 42 U.S.C. 1 A. The Five-Step Evaluation Process 2 The ALJ follows a five-step evaluation process to assess 3 whether a claimant is disabled. 4 Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as 5 amended Apr. 9, 1996). 6 determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in 7 substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled 8 and the claim must be denied. 9 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); In the first step, the Commissioner must § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful 10 activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine 11 whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of 12 impairments significantly limiting her ability to do basic work 13 activities; if not, the claimant is not disabled and the claim 14 must be denied. 15 § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of 16 impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to 17 determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments 18 meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments at 20 19 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is 20 conclusively presumed. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). 21 If the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments 22 does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth 23 step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant 24 has sufficient RFC to perform her past work; if so, she is not 25 disabled and the claim must be denied. 26 The claimant has the burden of proving she is unable to perform 27 past relevant work. 28 meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. 4 If the claimant 1 established. 2 relevant work, the Commissioner then bears the burden of 3 establishing that the claimant is not disabled because she can 4 perform other substantial gainful work available in the national 5 economy. 6 determination comprises the fifth and final step in the 7 sequential analysis. 8 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. 9 10 B. Id. If that happens or if the claimant has no past § 404.1520(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. That § 404.1520(a)(4)(v); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 The ALJ’s Application of the Five-Step Process At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in 11 substantial gainful activity since March 2, 2009, the alleged 12 onset date. 13 had severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the 14 lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine at 15 L5-S1, bilateral patellofemoral syndrome, thoracic myofascial 16 strain, asthma, obesity, possible fibromyalgia, history of 17 gastric bypass surgery with chronic anemia, and bipolar disorder. 18 (AR 12.) 19 not meet or equal a listing. 20 (AR 11.) At step two, he concluded that Plaintiff At step three, he determined that her impairments did (Id.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to 21 perform light work except that she could not climb ladders, 22 ropes, or scaffolds; could no more than frequently kneel, crouch, 23 crawl, balance, or be exposed to extreme heat or wetness; could 24 no more than occasionally stoop, climb ramps and stairs, be 25 exposed to workplace hazards and pulmonary irritants, or interact 26 with the public; was limited to no more than occasional changes 27 in her workplace setting; and was precluded from performing 28 complex work activity. (AR 13-14.) 5 The ALJ found that Plaintiff 1 was “likely to be absent from the workplace about one day a 2 month.” 3 (AR 14.) Based on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that 4 Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. 5 At step five, he relied on the VE’s testimony to find that given 6 Plaintiff’s RFC for light work “impeded by additional 7 limitations,” she could perform three “representative” light, 8 unskilled occupations in the national economy. 9 Accordingly, he found Plaintiff not disabled. 10 V. (AR 22-23.) (AR 23-24.) (AR 24.) DISCUSSION 11 Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ improperly rejected the 12 opinion of treating psychiatrist Dr. Staci Johnson that she would 13 not be able to “adapt to new or stressful situations” or 14 “complete a 40-hour workweek without decompensating.” 15 at 5.) 16 conclusions. 17 warranted. (J. Stip. She does not challenge any of the ALJ’s other findings or For the reasons discussed below, remand is not 18 A. 19 Three types of physicians may offer opinions in Social 20 Security cases: (1) those who directly treated the plaintiff, (2) 21 those who examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and (3) those 22 who did neither. 23 opinion is generally entitled to more weight than an examining 24 physician’s, and an examining physician’s opinion is generally 25 entitled to more weight than a nonexamining physician’s. Applicable Law Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. A treating physician’s Id. 26 This is so because treating physicians are employed to cure 27 and have a greater opportunity to know and observe the claimant. 28 Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1285 (9th Cir. 1996). 6 If a 1 treating physician’s opinion is well supported by medically 2 acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is 3 not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the 4 record, it should be given controlling weight. 5 If a treating physician’s opinion is not given controlling 6 weight, its weight is determined by length of the treatment 7 relationship, frequency of examination, nature and extent of the 8 treatment relationship, amount of evidence supporting the 9 opinion, consistency with the record as a whole, the doctor’s 10 11 area of specialization, and other factors. § 404.1527(c)(2). § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6). When a treating physician’s opinion is not contradicted by 12 other evidence in the record, it may be rejected only for “clear 13 and convincing” reasons. 14 Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lester, 81 15 F.3d at 830-31). 16 only “specific and legitimate reasons” for discounting it. 17 (citing Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31). 18 not accept the opinion of any physician, including a treating 19 physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and inadequately 20 supported by clinical findings.” 21 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); accord Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. 22 Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004). See Carmickle v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. When it is contradicted, the ALJ must provide Id. Furthermore, “[t]he ALJ need Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 23 B. 24 On June 18, 2009, state-agency medical consultant Dr. Nara 25 Relevant Background A. Paculdo, a psychiatrist, completed a psychiatric evaluation.2 26 27 28 2 Because Plaintiff did not file her current DIB application until 2012, Dr. Paculdo’s consultative examination must have been (continued...) 7 1 (AR 256-60.) Plaintiff reported that she was sad, depressed, and 2 anxious. 3 because there were too many people around and she did not want to 4 talk to anyone.” 5 She was able to cook, clean, run errands, shop, and take her 6 children to school. 7 Plaintiff had “unimpaired” memory and “intact” concentration. 8 (AR 258-59.) 9 disorders. (AR 256.) She stated that she “was not able to work (AR 257.) She could not concentrate. (AR 258.) (Id.) In a mental-status examination, Dr. Paculdo diagnosed anxiety and depressive (AR 259.) Dr. Paculdo found that Plaintiff’s ability 10 to understand, remember, and carry out simple or complex job 11 instructions was not significantly limited. 12 to relate and interact with supervisors, coworkers, and the 13 public was not significantly impaired. 14 significantly limited in her ability to maintain concentration 15 and persistence for a normal work period and to withstand the 16 stress and pressures associated with an eight-hour workday. 17 259-60.) 18 was “able to return to the national labor force from a 19 psychiatric point of view.” (Id.) (Id.) Her ability She was not (AR Dr. Paculdo found that her prognosis was “good” and she (AR 260.) 20 On May 5, 2011, state-agency consultant Dr. Reynaldo 21 Abejuela, a specialist in psychiatry and neurology, competed a 22 psychiatric evaluation.3 23 that she suffered from depression, anxiety, and multiple physical 24 ailments. (AR 1147.) (AR 1147-54.) Plaintiff complained She reported that she had problems 25 26 2 (...continued) for her earlier DIB claim. 27 3 28 This evaluation also was likely conducted in connection with the earlier DIB claim. 8 1 concentrating and focusing but was not seeking psychiatric help 2 because she could not afford it.4 3 examination, Plaintiff was cooperative and nonhostile. 4 1150.) 5 “recalled three out of three objects after three and five 6 minutes.” 7 mild anxiety” (AR 1152) and an “occupational and social 8 functioning impairment of none to mild from the psychiatric 9 standpoint” (AR 1153). (AR 1148.) In a mental-status (AR Her thought content was logical and coherent, and she (Id.) The examination revealed “mild depression and Plaintiff had “mild mental difficulties” 10 maintaining social functioning. 11 restrictions in her daily activities and no repeated episodes of 12 emotional deterioration in “work-like” situations. 13 concentration, persistence, and pace were mildly impaired, as 14 were her responses to coworkers, supervisors, the public, and 15 usual work situations. 16 Plaintiff’s symptoms would “abate in the next few months even 17 without treatment.” 18 “fair to good.” 19 (Id.) (AR 1154.) (AR 1153.) She had no mental (Id.) Her Dr. Abejuela opined that Her psychiatric prognosis was (Id.) Between 2006 and 2011, Plaintiff was treated by Dr. 20 Elizabeth D. Duenas. (See AR 383-84 (list of medications 21 prescribed by Dr. Duenas between 2006 and 2011).) 22 treated primarily for physical ailments but reported symptoms of 23 depression and anxiety, which were controlled or improved with 24 medication. 25 with medication), 388 (Aug. 2010: mood improved with She was (See, e.g., AR 408 (Apr. 2009: depression controlled 26 27 28 4 Although Plaintiff apparently temporarily lost coverage in 2011, she began receiving Medi-Cal sometime before late 2012. (See AR 1111.) 9 1 medication).) 2 In a function report dated October 20, 2012, Plaintiff noted 3 that she took care of her 12-year-old daughter but that her other 4 children helped with that task. 5 attention for only “maybe a good 2 minutes” before “dozing off.” 6 (AR 233.) 7 checked, “No.” 8 laid off from a job because of problems getting along with other 9 people. (AR 229, 236.) She could pay For the question, “Do you finish what you start?” she (Id.) (AR 234.) She noted that she had never been fired or A third-party function report completed by 10 her daughter echoed much of Plaintiff’s own report. 11 25.) 12 younger daughter “at all.” (See AR 217- 13 She noted that Plaintiff was not able to take care of her (AR 218.) On December 8, 2012, state-agency consulting psychiatrist 14 Dr. Thaworn Rathana-Nakintara completed a psychiatric evaluation. 15 (AR 1067-71.) 16 complaint was “feeling sad and very angry.” 17 reported taking medications for her symptoms, which helped. 18 (Id.) 19 noted that Plaintiff was alert and oriented to person, place, 20 time, and situation. 21 Plaintiff’s memory and noted that she was “able to register 3 out 22 of 3 items” immediately and “3 out of 3 items at 5 minutes.” 23 (Id.) 24 “Cannabis Dependence, in sustained remission.” 25 Plaintiff had no difficulty interacting with the clinic staff or 26 the doctor, maintaining focus and attention, or maintaining 27 concentration, persistence, and pace. 28 limitations performing simple or complex tasks, performing work Dr. Rathana-Nakintara noted that Plaintiff’s chief (AR 1067.) She In a mental-status examination, Dr. Rathana-Nakintara (AR 1069.) Dr. Rathana-Nakintara tested Dr. Rathana-Nakintara diagnosed “Mood Disorder” and 10 (Id.) (AR 1070.) She had no 1 activities on a consistent basis without special supervision, 2 “completing a normal workday or work week,” accepting 3 instructions from supervisors, or interacting with coworkers and 4 the public. 5 to treatment.” 6 (AR 1070-71.) She was “adhering and responding well (AR 1071.) Her prognosis was “good.” (Id.) On December 14, 2012, Dr. B.A. Smith, a state-agency 7 consulting psychiatrist, reviewed Plaintiff’s medical records and 8 completed a case analysis. 9 Plaintiff had one episode of decompensation in June 2012, but no Dr. Smith noted that 10 other episodes. 11 impairment in functioning.” 12 restrictions in her activities of daily living and no difficulty 13 maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence, or 14 pace. 15 (AR 86.) (AR 86-87.) Dr. Smith found that Plaintiff had “no (Id.) Plaintiff had “mild” (Id.) Meanwhile, Plaintiff started seeing Dr. Johnson, her 16 treating psychiatrist, on December 7, 2012. (AR 1091.) 17 Plaintiff’s medical records show that she met with Dr. Johnson 18 four times: on December 7, 2012, January 17, 2013, March 14, 19 2013, and August 2, 2013. 20 1096-97 (Jan. 17, 2013 visit), 1097-98 (Mar. 14, 2013 visit), 21 1136 (Aug. 2, 2013 visit).) 22 June 5, September 27, and November 20, 2013, but she did not show 23 up for them. (See AR 1091-92 (Dec. 7, 2012 visit), Plaintiff had appointments on May 9, (AR 1104-05, 1138, 1145.) On December 7, 2012, Dr. Johnson established a series of 24 25 treatment goals related to Plaintiff’s living arrangements, money 26 management, mental-health management, and medication. 27 92.) 28 diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder. (AR 1091- Dr. Johnson completed a psychiatric assessment and 11 (AR 1116-18.) She 1 assigned Plaintiff a “current” global assessment of functioning 2 (“GAF”) score of 55 and noted that Plaintiff’s highest GAF score 3 during the past year was 61.5 4 of “depression/anxiety, mood instability, irritability, poor 5 sleep, [and] manic symptoms.” 6 examination, Plaintiff’s mood was “anxious,” but she had “good” 7 concentration and “intact” short- and long-term memory, and she 8 was oriented to person, place, purpose, and time. 9 Plaintiff reported a good response to medication; Dr. Johnson (AR 1116.) (Id.) Plaintiff complained In a mental-status (AR 1118.) 10 recommended adjusting her medications and stressed the importance 11 of medication compliance. 12 Cynthia Marez, a social worker, the same day. 13 1131.) 14 assigned Plaintiff a GAF score of 49. 15 (Id.) Plaintiff was also assessed by (See AR 1106-15, Marez diagnosed bipolar and anxiety disorders and (AR 1106.) On January 17, 2013, Dr. Johnson noted Plaintiff’s symptoms 16 of “depression/anxiety, mood instability, poor sleep, [and] manic 17 symptoms.” 18 Plaintiff’s affect was “anxious [but] congruent” and her 19 attention and concentration were “fair.” (AR 1096.) In a mental-status examination, (Id.) Dr. Johnson 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5 GAF scores assess a person’s overall psychological functioning on a scale of 1 to 100. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 32 (revised 4th ed. 2000). A GAF score of 51 to 60 indicates moderate symptoms or difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning. See DSM-IV 34. A GAF score of 61 to 70 indicates “some mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia) OR some difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning . . . but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.” DSM-IV 34. GAF scores have been excluded from the latest edition of DSM because of concerns about their reliability and lack of clarity, however. See DSM-V 15-16 (5th ed. 2013). 12 1 recommended that Plaintiff continue with her current medications 2 but with revised dosages. 3 Plaintiff reported to Dr. Johnson that she was “ok” and had a 4 “good response to [her] current medications,” but she admitted to 5 “some anxiety” and “attribute[d] it to being newly diagnosed with 6 fibromyalgia and being told that [she] no longer ha[d] lupus.” 7 (Id.) 8 concentrate and presented as appropriate or normal in all tested 9 areas. (AR 1097.) On March 14, 2013, In a mental-status examination, she was able to (AR 1098.) She reported a “good response to medication,” 10 and her affect apparently improved to “neutral, congruent.” 11 (Id.) 12 Dr. Johnson completed a “Narrative Report” on May 16, 2013. 13 (AR 1090.) The report was a one-page preprinted form that listed 14 potential diagnostic criteria, symptoms, and other information 15 and had blank spaces for diagnoses, prescribed medications, and 16 comments. 17 In a section asking Dr. Johnson to circle the “criteria that 18 apply” to Plaintiff, she noted that Plaintiff’s thought was 19 “ruminative,” her memory was “intact,” her judgment was mildly 20 impaired, and she showed evidence of insomnia, depression, 21 anxiety, compulsive behavior, and “manic syndrome.” 22 did not circle “confusion,” “phobias,” “panic episodes,” 23 “suicidal/homicidal ideation,” “decreased energy,” “isolation,” 24 or “inappropriate affect.” 25 to “psychosis.” 26 Plaintiff’s attitude — but not “hostile,” “uncooperative,” 27 “fearful,” or “tearful” — and “chronic” as her prognosis. 28 Dr. Johnson assessed that Plaintiff could “interact (Id.) Dr. Johnson diagnosed bipolar disorder. (Id.) (Id.) (Id.) (Id.) She Dr. Johnson wrote “N/A” next She circled “anxious” to describe 13 (Id.) 1 appropriately” with family, strangers, coworkers, and 2 supervisors. 3 concentration and sustain repetitive tasks for an extended 4 period, but she could not “adapt to new or stressful situations.” 5 (Id.) 6 work week without decompensating?” Dr. Johnson circled, “no.” 7 (Id.) She could maintain a sustained level of For the question, “Can [Plaintiff] complete [a] 40 hr. Dr. Johnson left the comment section blank. (Id.) On August 2, 2013, Plaintiff reported feeling “not so good.” 8 9 (Id.) (AR 1136.) She noted that her medications “were effective” but 10 that she “ran out” of them because she missed an appointment. 11 (Id.) 12 that Plaintiff was anxious but able to concentrate. 13 In a mental-status examination that day, Dr. Johnson noted (Id.) Meanwhile, on June 28, 2013, state-agency consultant Dr. 14 Raman Gill Chahal6 completed the mental-health portion of 15 Plaintiff’s case analysis on reconsideration. 16 Chahal found that Plaintiff had “moderate” difficulty maintaining 17 social functioning, concentration, persistence, or pace. 18 103.) 19 restrictions in her activities of daily living and no repeated 20 episodes of decompensation of extended duration. 21 Chahal found that Plaintiff’s subjective complaints were not 22 supported by the objective medical evidence. 23 that there was an “[i]ssue of credibility” because of 24 “inconsistent” reports of symptoms and history. (AR 102-04.) Dr. (AR He agreed with Dr. Smith’s assessment that she had “mild” (Id.) (AR 104.) (Id.) Dr. He found He noted 25 26 27 28 6 Dr. Chahal has a specialty code of “37” (AR 104), indicating “[p]sychiatry,” see Program Operations Manual System DI 24501.004, U.S. Soc. Sec. Admin. (May 5, 2015), http:// policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0424501004. 14 1 that she “reports difficulties in social interaction but 2 interacts appropriately with various [treatment] providers and 3 their staff.” 4 (Id.) In a mental-RFC assessment, Dr. Chahal opined that Plaintiff 5 could maintain concentration and persistence “on detailed tasks 6 for 2 hour periods and on simple tasks for 4 hour intervals to 7 complete a workday/[week] on a sustained basis.” 8 was “moderately limited” in her ability to maintain attention and 9 concentration for extended periods; perform activities within a (AR 108.) She 10 schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within 11 customary tolerances; and complete a normal workday and workweek 12 without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and 13 perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and 14 length of rest periods. 15 “understanding and memory” and no significant limitations in the 16 areas of “sustained concentration and persistence.” 17 Chahal found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in her 18 ability to interact appropriately with the general public but had 19 no other significant limitations in the area of social 20 interaction. 21 the “psychological impact of chronic pain and fatigue,” Plaintiff 22 “may have difficulties in serving the general public,” but she 23 could “interact in a superficial work related manner with 24 coworkers and supervisors.” 25 although Plaintiff was “moderately limited” in her ability to 26 respond appropriately to changes in the work setting, she had no 27 other significant “adaptation” limitations, and she could adapt 28 to “occasional changes in her work setting and routine.” (AR 109.) (Id.) She had no limitations in (Id.) Dr. Because of her depression, anxiety, and (Id.) 15 Dr. Chahal found that (Id.) 1 2 At the July 11, 2014 hearing, Plaintiff testified that she 3 was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003. 4 reported that she has “very short patience” and that her “anxiety 5 levels run extremely high.” 6 difficulty interacting with the public (AR 52), was “stand- 7 offish” with coworkers (AR 53), and would not be able to get 8 along with supervisors (id.). 9 paying attention. (Id.) (AR 47.) She She testified that she had She had problems focusing and (Id.) 10 C. Analysis 11 The ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform light work 12 with certain postural and exposure limitations, was limited to no 13 more than occasional changes in workplace setting, could no more 14 than occasionally interact with the public, and was precluded 15 from performing complex workplace activity. 16 found that Plaintiff was “likely to be absent from the workplace 17 about one day a month.” 18 statements and Adult Function Report and concluded that they were 19 only partially credible. 20 Party Function Report completed by Plaintiff’s daughter and found 21 it not credible. 22 opinions of the state-agency consultants, consultative examiners, 23 and Dr. Johnson. 24 impairment, he accorded “great weight” to the opinions of state- 25 agency doctors Smith, Chahal, and Abejuela and “little weight” to (AR 14.) (AR 17-22.) The ALJ He considered Plaintiff’s (AR 15-16.) (AR 16-17.)7 (AR 13-14.) He considered the Third He summarized the medical As to Plaintiff’s alleged mental 26 27 7 28 Plaintiff has not challenged the ALJ’s assessment of her credibility or his rejection of the third-party report. 16 1 the opinions of Drs. Rathana-Nakintara and Johnson. 2 Because Dr. Johnson’s opinion that Plaintiff would not be able to 3 adapt to new or stressful situations or complete a 40-hour 4 workweek without decompensating was contradicted by other medical 5 opinions in the record, the ALJ had to give only specific and 6 legitimate reasons for rejecting all or part of it. 7 Carmickle, 533 F.3d at 1164. See As discussed below, the ALJ did so. As an initial matter, the ALJ partially accommodated Dr. 8 9 (AR 21-22.) Johnson’s finding that Plaintiff could not adapt to new or 10 stressful situations by limiting her to only occasional changes 11 in the workplace. 12 legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion to the extent he did 13 so. 14 But in any event, he provided specific and The ALJ gave “little weight” to Dr. Johnson’s opinion in 15 part because it was “brief, conclusory, and inadequately 16 supported by clinical findings.” 17 was rendered on a one-page preprinted form that listed potential 18 diagnostic criteria, symptoms, and other information and provided 19 blank spaces for diagnoses, prescribed medications, and comments. 20 (See AR 1090.) 21 the question, “Can [Plaintiff] complete [a] 40 hr. work week 22 without decompensating?” 23 explanation for that finding or her finding that Plaintiff could 24 not adapt to new or stressful situations, also in response to a 25 preprinted form question. 26 discount the opinion on that basis. 27 F.3d 251, 253 (9th Cir. 1996) (ALJ permissibly rejected 28 psychological evaluations “because they were check-off reports (AR 21.) Indeed, the opinion Dr. Johnson simply circled “no” in response to (Id.) She did not provide any (See id.) 17 The ALJ was entitled to See Crane v. Shalala, 76 1 that did not contain any explanation of the bases of their 2 conclusions”); De Guzman v. Astrue, 343 F. App’x 201, 209 (9th 3 Cir. 2009) (ALJ was “free to reject” doctor’s check-off report 4 that did not explain basis for conclusions); see also Batson, 359 5 F.3d at 1195 (“[A]n ALJ may discredit treating physicians’ 6 opinions that are conclusory, brief, and unsupported by the 7 record as a whole . . . or by objective medical findings[.]”). 8 9 The ALJ found that Dr. Johnson’s opinion was not supported by “medically acceptable clinical findings.” (AR 22.) Indeed, 10 Dr. Johnson’s opinion that Plaintiff would not be able to adapt 11 to new or stressful situations or complete a 40-hour workweek was 12 not supported by any clinical findings — either in Dr. Johnson’s 13 own treatment notes, contrary to Plaintiff’s argument otherwise 14 (see J. Stip. at 7-8), or the rest of the record. 15 As the ALJ noted, Dr. Johnson’s opinion was contradicted by 16 Plaintiff’s “grossly normal” mental-status examinations and was 17 internally inconsistent. 18 status examination, Plaintiff presented as anxious but had “good” 19 concentration and “intact” memory and was oriented to person, 20 place, purpose, and time. 21 examination from January 2013, Plaintiff’s mood and affect were 22 “appropriate,” her affect was “anxious,” and her attention and 23 concentration were “fair.” 24 examination, she was “[a]ble to [c]oncentrate” and presented as 25 appropriate or normal in all testing areas. 26 August 2013 examination, Plaintiff was anxious but able to 27 concentrate. 28 Johnson’s opinion because it was inconsistent with her own (AR 1136.) (AR 22.) In a December 2012 mental- (AR 1118.) (AR 1096.) In a mental-status In a May 2013 (AR 1098.) In an The ALJ was permitted to discount Dr. 18 1 mental-status examination findings. (AR 22); see Rollins v. 2 Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 856 (9th Cir. 2001) (ALJ permissibly 3 rejected treating physician’s opinion when opinion was 4 contradicted by or inconsistent with treatment reports). 5 Johnson also consistently noted that Plaintiff’s medications were 6 mostly effective, and she did not recommend any more intensive or 7 invasive treatment. 8 effective), 1118 (noting good response to medication), 1098 9 (same), 1097 (same).) Dr. (See, e.g., AR 1136 (noting medications were The ALJ properly relied on the apparent 10 lack of consistent treatment history and examination findings to 11 discount Dr. Johnson’s opinion. 12 F.3d 871, 875 (9th Cir. 2003) (treating physician’s opinion 13 properly rejected when treatment notes “provide[d] no basis for 14 the functional restrictions he opined should be imposed on 15 [plaintiff]”). 16 was internally “inconsistent.” 17 noted that Plaintiff could maintain a sustained level of 18 concentration, sustain repetitive tasks for an extended period, 19 and interact appropriately with others (AR 1090), which is 20 inconsistent with her opinion that Plaintiff could not complete a 21 40-hour workweek without decompensating — at least absent some 22 explanation of why not.8 See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 Further, the ALJ noted that Dr. Johnson’s opinion (AR 22.) Indeed, Dr. Johnson 23 24 25 26 27 28 8 Plaintiff argues that POMS DI 25020.010 ¶ 2 contains an “implicit” acknowledgment that the “ability to adapt to new or stressful situations” and “complete a 40-hour workweek” are “separate and distinct work requirements” from “maintaining concentration,” “sustaining performance of repetitive tasks,” and “interacting appropriately with others.” (J. Stip. at 10.) Assuming Plaintiff means POMS DI 25020.010 B.2, which lists the (continued...) 19 1 Further, there is no evidence in the rest of the medical 2 record to support a finding that Plaintiff would be unable to 3 adapt to new or stressful situations or complete a normal 4 workweek without decompensating. 5 Plaintiff was not significantly limited in her ability to 6 maintain concentration and persistence for a normal work period 7 and to withstand the stress and pressures associated with an 8 eight-hour workday. 9 Plaintiff had no repeated episodes of emotional deterioration in 10 worklike situations and that her concentration, persistence, and 11 pace were only mildly impaired. 12 improvement in Plaintiff’s anxiety and depression with the use of 13 medication. 14 no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. 15 86.) 16 concentration and persistence on detailed tasks for two-hour 17 periods and on simple tasks for four-hour intervals and could Dr. Paculdo found that (AR 259-60.) (AR 388, 408.) Dr. Abejuela opined that (AR 1153.) Dr. Duenas noted Dr. Smith noted that Plaintiff had (AR Dr. Chahal opined that Plaintiff could maintain 18 19 8 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 (...continued) “Mental Abilities Needed For Any Job,” her argument is without merit. Notably, the ability to “complete a 40-hour workweek” without decompensating — or, in other words, without “interruptions from psychologically based symptoms” — appears in the same sentence as the ability to “perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods,” as a single functional requirement. See POMS DI 25020.010 B.2.a. Thus, the ALJ properly noted the inconsistency in Dr. Johnson’s findings that Plaintiff could not work a 40-hour workweek without decompensating yet was able to maintain a sustained level of concentration without any limitations. (AR 22.) And although “the ability to respond appropriately to changes in (a routine) work setting” is listed as a separate requirement to consider, the ability to deal with “new or stressful” situations is not. Id. 20 1 complete a workday or week on a sustained basis.9 (AR 108.) The 2 ALJ could permissibly reject Dr. Johnson’s contrary opinion. See 3 Batson, 359 F.3d at 1195. 4 The ALJ noted that Plaintiff “reported decreased symptoms 5 with prescription medication.” (AR 22.) As discussed above, 6 Drs. Duenas and Johnson both noted improvement in Plaintiff’s 7 symptoms with use of medication. 8 medication can be substantial evidence supporting an ALJ’s 9 nondisability determination. Improvement with treatment and See Warre v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. 10 Admin., 439 F.3d 1001, 1006 (9th Cir. 2006) (“Impairments that 11 can be controlled effectively with medication are not disabling 12 for the purpose of determining eligibility for . . . benefits.”); 13 Thomas, 278 F.3d at 957; Allen v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 498 F. 14 App’x 696, 697 (9th Cir. 2012). 15 were largely controlled with medication, she would be able to 16 work without decompensating, contrary to Dr. Johnson’s opinion. 17 And because Plaintiff’s symptoms Further, the ALJ properly gave no weight to Dr. Johnson’s 18 conclusion that Plaintiff was unable to work because it was “an 19 opinion on an issue reserved to the Commissioner.” 20 Indeed, Dr. Johnson’s opinion that Plaintiff was unable to 21 complete a 40–hour workweek without decompensating was 22 essentially an opinion on Plaintiff’s ultimate disability status, (AR 21.) 23 24 25 26 27 28 9 Dr. Rathana-Nakintara similarly found that Plaintiff could complete a normal workday or week without decompensating (see AR 1070-71), although the ALJ gave the doctor’s opinion “little weight,” apparently because it assessed no limitations of any kind (AR 21). 21 1 which the ALJ was not obligated to accept.10 2 § 404.1527(d)(1) (“A statement by a medical source that you are 3 ‘disabled’ or ‘unable to work’ does not mean that we will 4 determine that you are disabled.”); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, at 5 *5 (July 2, 1996) (treating-source opinions that person is 6 disabled or unable to work “can never be entitled to controlling 7 weight or given special significance”); see also McLeod v. 8 Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011) (as amended) (“A 9 disability is an administrative determination of how an See 10 impairment, in relation to education, age, technological, 11 economic, and social factors, affects ability to engage in 12 gainful activity.”). 13 Plaintiff was disabled or unable to work, the ALJ properly 14 discounted her opinion. 15 To the extent Dr. Johnson meant that Finally, the ALJ was entitled to rely on the opinion of Dr. 16 Abejuela, which he gave “great weight.” (AR 21.) Because Dr. 17 Abejuela personally observed and examined Plaintiff and his 18 findings were consistent with the objective evidence, his opinion 19 constitutes substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s decision. 20 See Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001) 21 (finding that examining physician’s “opinion alone constitutes 22 substantial evidence, because it rests on his own independent 23 examination of [plaintiff]”); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 24 1041 (9th Cir. 1995) (opinion of nontreating source based on 25 independent clinical findings may itself be substantial 26 27 28 10 Plaintiff concedes that Dr. Johnson “effectively opined that [Plaintiff] would be incapable of working a 40-hour workweek.” (J. Stip. at 5.) 22 1 2 evidence). Plaintiff argues that she was assessed with a GAF of 49, 3 “indicat[ing] serious symptoms.” (J. Stip. at 7.) But the 4 report cited by Plaintiff to support that argument is from a 5 social worker, not an acceptable medical source. 6 see SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *2 (Aug. 9, 2006) (“licensed 7 clinical social workers” are not acceptable medical sources). 8 Further, the lower GAF score was contradicted by Dr. Johnson, who 9 assigned Plaintiff a GAF score of 55 the very same day. (AR 1107-09); (AR 10 1106, 1116.) 11 well as the weight of the contrary medical evidence in the rest 12 of the record was a germane reason to discount social-worker 13 Marez’s assessment. 14 KLS, 2014 WL 1116780, at *4 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 20, 2014) (ALJ 15 properly rejected opinion of nonacceptable medical sources 16 because record contained “little if any objective clinical 17 support for the level of functional restriction they assessed”); 18 cf. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1218 (9th Cir. 2005) 19 (“[i]nconsistency with medical evidence” is germane reason for 20 discounting lay opinion). 21 The higher GAF score assessed by Dr. Johnson as See Fentress v. Colvin, No. 3:13-cv-05078- Because the ALJ provided specific and legitimate reasons for 22 giving Dr. Johnson’s opinion limited weight, remand is not 23 warranted. 24 25 26 27 28 23 1 2 VI. CONCLUSION Consistent with the foregoing, and under sentence four of 42 3 U.S.C. § 405(g),11 IT IS ORDERED that judgment be entered 4 AFFIRMING the decision of the Commissioner, DENYING Plaintiff’s 5 request for remand, and DISMISSING this action with prejudice. 6 7 DATED: April 21, 2017 8 ______________________________ JEAN ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 11 That sentence provides: “The [district] court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 24

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