Sharon Cynthia Pague v. Carolyn W. Colvin

Filing 21

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Gail J. Standish. For all of the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner finding Plaintiff not disabled is AFFIRMED. (ec)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 10 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 11 12 Case No. 5:16-cv-00590-GJS SHARON PAGUE, Plaintiff 13 MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER v. 14 NANCY A. BERRYHILL1, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 15 16 Defendant. 17 18 I. 19 20 21 22 23 24 PROCEDURAL HISTORY Plaintiff Sharon Pague (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security’s (“Commissioner”) denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 11, 12] and briefs addressing disputed issues 25 26 27 28 1 The Court notes that Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration on January 23, 2017. Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court orders that the caption be amended to substitute Nancy A. Berryhill for Carolyn W. Colvin as the defendant in this action. 1 in the case [Dkt. 19 (“Pltf.’s Br.”) and Dkt. 20 (“Def.’s Br.”)]. The Court has taken 2 the parties’ briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons set 3 forth below, the Court affirms the decision of the ALJ and orders judgment entered 4 accordingly. 5 6 II. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION UNDER REVIEW On May 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI, alleging that 7 she became disabled as of December 10, 2010. [Dkt. 15, Administrative Record 8 (“AR”) 167-175, 186.] The Commissioner denied her initial claim for benefits and 9 then denied her claim upon reconsideration. [AR 10 and 47-70, 73-94.] On October 10 5, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael D. 11 Radensky. [AR 23-46.] On October 25, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying 12 Plaintiff’s request for benefits. [AR 7-22.] Plaintiff requested review from the 13 Appeals Council, which denied review. [AR 1-4.] 14 Plaintiff filed a civil action on February 14, 2014. United States Magistrate 15 Judge Michael R. Wilner remanded the case to the Commissioner for further 16 proceedings on December 30, 2014. [AR 525-538 (Pague v. Colvin, EDCV 14-293- 17 MRW, Dkt. 20).] Subsequently, on September 23, 2015, a second hearing was held 18 before ALJ Dante M. Alegre. [AR 472-496.] On December 11, 2015, the ALJ 19 issued a decision again denying Plaintiff’s request for benefits. [AR 434-446.] 20 Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council on February 11, 2016, but 21 subsequently withdrew her request for review and sought review directly from this 22 Court. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484. 23 Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that 24 Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1) 416.920(b)-(g)(1). 25 At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful 26 activity since December 10, 2010, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 27 2015, her date last insured. [AR 437.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff 28 suffered from the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, mood disorder, 2 1 post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), status-post mastectomy, chemotherapy, 2 and radiation from ductal carcinoma. [AR 437 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 3 416.920(c).] Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or 4 combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of 5 the listed impairments. [AR 438 (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; 6 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).] The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity 7 8 (RFC): [M]edium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(c) involving the following: lifting and/or carrying 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; sitting, standing, and/or walking for six hours out of an eighthours workday; and unskilled work but no fast production work. 9 10 11 12 13 [AR 439.] Applying this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform 14 her past relevant work, but determined that based on her age (44 years old) limited 15 education, and ability to communicate in English, she could perform representative 16 occupations such as night cleaner (DOT 381.687-018), furniture cleaner (DOT 17 709.687-014), and linen room attendant (DOT 222.387-030) and, thus, is not 18 disabled. [AR 445.] III. 19 GOVERNING STANDARD Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to 20 21 determine if: (1) the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence; 22 and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. 23 Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 24 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a 25 reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. 26 Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see 27 also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074. 28 /// 3 1 2 IV. DISCUSSION Plaintiff contends the ALJ erroneously discounted the opinion of examining 3 physician Dr. Khushro Unwalla. [Pltf.’s Br. at 8:22-11:3.] In opposition, the 4 Commissioner contends that the ALJ’s assessment of Dr. Unwalla’s opinion was 5 proper. [Def.’s Br. at 4:23-7:12.] 6 An ALJ is obligated to take into account all medical opinions of record, 7 resolve conflicts in medical testimony, and analyze evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 8 404.1527(c) and 416.927; Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). 9 In conducting this analysis, the opinion of a treating or examining physician is 10 entitled to greater weight than that of a non-examining physician. Garrison v. 11 Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014). To reject the uncontradicted opinion of 12 a treating or examining physician, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing 13 reasons. Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1160-61 (9th Cir. 2014); Lester v. 14 Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). When a treating or examining physician’s 15 opinion is contradicted by another opinion, an ALJ may not reject the opinion 16 without “specific and legitimate reasons” that are supported by substantial evidence 17 in the record. Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1161; Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1012; Lester, 81 18 F.3d at 830-31. “This is so because, even when contradicted, a treating or 19 examining physician’s opinion is still owed deference and will often be ‘entitled to 20 the greatest weight . . . even if it does not meet the test for controlling weight.’” 21 Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1012 (internal citation omitted). 22 Dr. Unwalla completed a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff on May 1, 2015. 23 In his report, he noted that Plaintiff was shaking and tremulous, exhibited 24 psychomotor agitation and a reactive affect, appeared anxious, and demonstrated 25 disorganized and confused thought processes. [AR 596.] Among other things, Dr. 26 Unwalla found that Plaintiff had marked difficulties in the following: interacting 27 with others; social functioning; concentrating; performing simple, repetitive tasks; 28 and performing detailed and complex tasks. [AR 597.] 4 1 The ALJ discounted the opinion of Dr. Unwalla and instead relied on the 2 contradictory opinion of the non-treating, non-examining psychological consultant, 3 Dr. Anna M. Franco. [AR 47-69; 441-442.] The ALJ gave Dr. Unwalla’s opinion 4 “little weight” for one reason. [AR 442.] The ALJ stated that “the findings noted 5 by Dr. Unwalla are an anomaly,” because they were inconsistent with the treatment 6 record. [AR 442.] The Court finds that the ALJ’s stated reason satisfies the specific 7 and legitimate reason requirement. 8 Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertion, the fact that Dr. Unwalla reviewed the record 9 does not necessarily make his opinion consistent with that record. [See Pltf.’s Br. at 10 9:14-10:5.] Here, the ALJ found that the longitudinal treatment records regarding 11 Plaintiff’s bipolar disorder, PTSD, and mood disorder “indicate[d] that Plaintiff was 12 doing fairly well,” with only isolated instances of severe findings. [AR 441.] 13 Specifically, “[a]side from some findings of a depressed mood, a blunted affect, and 14 tearfulness at times…any more significant findings were even more isolated.” [AR 15 441 (citing AR 254, 260, 329-331, 337, 345, 360, 904, 906-909.] The ALJ noted 16 two treatment records where Plaintiff appeared to be suffering from more severe 17 mental health issues. In December 2013, Plaintiff’s treatment note indicated that 18 she had poor concentration, impaired judgement, depression, anxiety, and reported 19 that she was suffering from paranoia and hallucinations. [AR at 910.] A month 20 later, in January 2014, Plaintiff’s treatment note indicated that she appeared 21 disheveled, had poor eye contact, was withdrawn, had a depressed mood and 22 constricted affect, and again reported that she was suffering from hallucinations. 23 [AR at 915.] However, the ALJ concluded that aside from these two treatment 24 notes, the remaining findings were generally within normal limits. [See AR 254, 25 260, 329-331, 337, 345, 360, 904, 906-909.] In addition, although Plaintiff 26 participated in a court-mandated mental health program for child endangerment in 27 March 2011, the treatment notes indicated that she had excellent participation in the 28 program, did well on her medications, and no further case management services 5 1 2 were needed as of June 2011. [AR 290, 293, 346.] This lack of support in the treatment notes, objective evidence, and medical 3 record as a whole is a specific and legitimate reason supported by substantial 4 evidence for discounting Dr. Unwalla’s opinion. See C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(4) and 5 416.927 (“[g]enerally, the more consistent an opinion is with the record as a whole, 6 the more weight we will give to that opinion.”); Mendoza v. Astrue, 371 Fed. Appx. 7 829, 831–32 (9th Cir. 2010) (“The ALJ permissibly rejected a medical opinion of a 8 non-treating examining physician that was unsupported by the record as a whole.”) 9 (internal citation omitted); Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992) 10 (finding that an ALJ may reject the conclusory opinion of a treating or examining 11 physician if the opinion is unsupported by clinical findings). V. 12 13 14 CONCLUSION For all of the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner finding Plaintiff not disabled is AFFIRMED. 15 16 IT IS SO ORDERED. 17 18 19 DATED: March 07, 2017 __________________________________ GAIL J. STANDISH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6

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