Anthony Lindsay v. Jo Anne B. Barnhart

Case 5:04-cv-01233-PJW Document 17 Filed 11/14/05 Page 1 of 17 Page ID #:32 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CAL...

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Case 5:04-cv-01233-PJW Document 17 Filed 11/14/05 Page 1 of 17 Page ID #:32

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

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CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

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ANTHONY LINDSAY, JR.,

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Plaintiff,

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v.

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JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )

Case No. ED CV 04-1233-PJW MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

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I.

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INTRODUCTION

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Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and

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1383(c)(3), seeking reversal of the decision by Defendant Social

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Security Administration (“Agency”) denying Supplemental Security

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Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).

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Alternatively, he asks the Court to remand the case to the Agency for

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further proceedings.

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discussed below, the decision of the Agency is AFFIRMED, and this

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action is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

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After reviewing the record and for the reasons

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II.

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BACKGROUND

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Plaintiff was born on July 20, 1959, and was 43 years old at the

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time of the administrative hearing.

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years of education and has past relevant work as an automobile

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mechanic.

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(AR 147, 552.)

He has eleven

(AR 76, 81, 101, 111, 120.)

Plaintiff filed protectively for SSI on December 18, 2000 and

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applied for DIB on August 6, 2001.

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Plaintiff alleged disability since June 13, 1989, because of low back

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pain, a left foot deformity, bleeding ulcers, depression, and stress.

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(AR 17, 158.)

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reconsideration, he timely requested a hearing before an

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administrative law judge (“ALJ”).

(AR 62, 65.)

In his applications,

After his applications were denied initially and on

(AR 47, 52, 57.)

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The hearing was held on January 17, 2003.

(AR 552-61.)

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Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified.

(AR 555-60.)

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Plaintiff testified that he was seeing a psychiatrist for depression,

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stress, and poor concentration.

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suicidal tendencies, paranoia, auditory hallucinations, and tactile

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hallucinations.

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manifested themselves as he was sleeping and sometimes led him to

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conclude that people were “going to get me”; his tactile

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hallucinations took the form of “something crawling on me.”

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556-57.)

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finishing the tasks he had started; because this would lead to

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frustration, he would “try not to do things that’ll get me

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frustrated.”

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of his mother--with whom he had lived for most of his life--four years

(AR 555).

(See AR 555-57.)

He also claimed to have

Plaintiff’s auditory hallucinations

(See AR

His concentration deficits prevented Plaintiff from

(AR 555-56.)

He attributed his depression to the death

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previously.

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medication for his depression, and conceded that this medication

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helped alleviate his symptoms.

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(See AR 555, 558.)

Plaintiff stated that he took

(See AR 559-60.)

As to his lifestyle, Plaintiff claimed that he took his

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medications every day, as prescribed.

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he no longer had a driver’s license because “child support took” it

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from him.

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drinker until 2002, when his alcoholism landed him in the hospital on

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the verge of kidney failure.

(See AR 560.)

(AR 560).

He also stated that

Plaintiff admitted that he had been a hard

(See AR 558-59.)

Since that time,

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Plaintiff claimed to drink only occasionally.

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denied ever having used illegal street drugs, and specifically denied

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ever using cocaine, marijuana, or heroin.

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adjourned the hearing.

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(See AR 558.)

(AR 559.)

He

The ALJ then

(AR 561.)

On February 28, 2003, after analyzing Plaintiff’s claims under

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the Agency’s five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ issued

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his decision.

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that Plaintiff had “engaged in substantial gainful activity since his

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alleged onset date.”

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Plaintiff’s combined impairments--which included “low back pain,

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bleeding ulcers, abdominal pain, left foot pain, and mental problems”-

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-were “severe” within the meaning of the regulations.1

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(AR 16-27.)

At step one, the ALJ found no evidence

(AR 17.)

At step two, he concluded that

(See AR 16.)

At step three, after observing that Plaintiff had introduced no

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medical records predating June 1998, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s

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limitations were not supported by “the appropriate clinical or

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As to Plaintiff’s claim for DIB, however, the ALJ concluded that he “does not have any impairment or impairments which significantly limits his ability to perform basic work-related activities prior to September 30, 1994, the date he last met the insured status requirements of the Act.” (AR 27.) 3

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laboratory findings” and, thus, could not be considered severe enough

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to meet or medically equal a Listing.

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on to explain, however, this did not end the step-three analysis:

(See AR 18.)

As the ALJ went

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The undersigned finds that regardless of whether

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[Plaintiff’s] impairments would meet the Listings, his

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alcohol and drug abuse would be disabling.

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that [Plaintiff] has been diagnosed with polysubstance

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abuse; alcohol abuse; and alcohol-induced mood disorder.

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Although [Plaintiff] testified during the hearing that he

The record shows

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has not used alcohol for a year and has never abused drugs,

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this is clearly inconsistent with the record, which shows

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that he has a significant history of alcohol and drug abuse.

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The record shows that [Plaintiff] has had legal problems,

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has worked only sporadically due to his alcohol and drug

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abuse, and has problems with regard to his ability to

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function and to socialize with others due to his alcohol and

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drug abuse.

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treating source records indicate [Plaintiff] was still using

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alcohol and marijuana; and had used cocaine in the recent

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past.

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overcome his long-term substance abuse is not supported by

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the record.

As recently as October and November 2002,

Thus, [Plaintiff’s] recent claims that he has

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(See AR 18 (citation to record omitted).)

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concluded that “considering only his alcohol and drug abuse,

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[Plaintiff] would be disabled.”

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evidence, however, the ALJ determined “that in the absence of alcohol

(AR 19.)

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On this record, the ALJ

After examining the medical

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and drug abuse, [Plaintiff] can perform unskilled work, as defined in

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the regulations, on a regular and sustained basis.”

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the ALJ proceeded to step four.

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(AR 23.)

Thus,

At step four, the ALJ began by noting that “[t]here has been no

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suggestion that [Plaintiff’s] symptoms have resulted in any

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restriction in his ability to function.”

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mind, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity:

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[I]n giving [Plaintiff] the benefit of every tenable doubt,

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it is found that [Plaintiff] is limited to the performance

(AR 22.)

Bearing this in

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of medium work on a sustained basis.

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the ability to stand and/or walk, off and on, for a total of

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approximately six hours out of an eight-hour workday, and

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sit intermittently during the remaining time.

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requires an ability to lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25

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pounds frequently and to frequently bend and stoop.

Medium work includes

It also

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(See AR 22.)

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mechanic required him to lift up to 100 pounds, the ALJ concluded that

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he was unable to return to his past relevant work.

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Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to step five of the sequential process.

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Because Plaintiff’s past relevant work as an automobile

(See AR 24.)

Consulting the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”), the

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ALJ made the step five determination that--given Plaintiff’s residual

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functional capacity--there existed approximately 2500 separate

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unskilled occupations performed at the sedentary, light, or medium

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level of exertion; the ALJ further found that each of these

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occupations offered numerous jobs in the national economy.

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25).

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the meaning of the regulations.

(See AR

Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within (See AR 25.)

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Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ’s decision.

(AR 11-

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12.)

The Appeals Council denied review, however, and the decision of

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the ALJS became the final decision of the Agency.

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Plaintiff then filed a Complaint in this Court, challenging the

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Agency’s decision denying him benefits.

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III.

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STANDARD OF REVIEW

(AR 5-7.)

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“Disability” under the applicable statute is defined as the

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inability to perform any substantial gainful activity because of “any

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medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be

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expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to

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last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.”

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U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

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that a claimant is not disabled only if the decision is not supported

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by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.

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Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989).

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The Court may overturn an ALJ’s decision

See Magallanes v.

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Substantial evidence “‘means such relevant evidence as a

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reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’”

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Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(quoting Consol. Edison

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Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938).)

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scintilla but less than a preponderance,” Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d

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599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998), and “does not mean a large or considerable

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amount of evidence,” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).

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It is “more than a mere

“The Court must uphold the ALJ’s conclusion even if the evidence

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in the record is susceptible to more than one rational

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interpretation.”

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599 (9th Cir. 1999).

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support either affirming or reversing the Agency’s decision, this

Morgan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, Indeed, if the record evidence can reasonably

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Court must not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.

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Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

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committed error but the error was harmless, reversal is not required.

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See Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th

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Cir. 2003)(applying the harmless error standard).

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IV.

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DISCUSSION

If the ALJ

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred by (1) giving insufficient

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See

weight to the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician (see Joint

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Stip. at 5-7.); and by (2) ignoring a mental health assessment

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completed by a social worker.

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reasons set forth below, neither ground warrants reversal of the ALJ’s

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decision.

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A.

(See Joint Stip. at 3-4).

For the

The ALJ’s Assessment Of The Medical Evidence Is Supported By

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Substantial Evidence

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Plaintiff complains that the ALJ did not give proper weight to

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the medical evidence.

In particular, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ

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did not discuss the Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of

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35 that Dr. Marissa Mejia, M.D., a treating psychiatrist, supposedly

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assigned him in August 2001.2

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failing to defer to Ms. Mejia’s failure to diagnose him with a

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substance abuse disorder, (see Joint Stip. at 7), and decries “[t]he

Plaintiff also faults the ALJ for

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The GAF score is used by clinicians to report an individual’s overall level of functioning. See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Text Revision 4th ed. 2000) (“DSM-IV”) at 32. A GAF score of 31-40 indicates “[s]ome impairment in reality testing or communication ... OR major impairment in several areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking or mood.” See DSM-IV at 34. 7

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ALJ’s failure to mention [Dr. Mejia’s] opinion of disability.”

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Joint Stip. at 5-7.)

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misleading reading of the record, they must be rejected.

(See

Insofar as these claims are predicated on a

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A treating physician’s opinion on the nature and severity of an

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impairment will be given controlling weight if it is “well-supported

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by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques

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and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]

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case record.”

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specific and legitimate reasons to reject the opinions of treating

20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2).

The ALJS must offer

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physicians.

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An ALJS need not, however, give controlling weight to the opinion of a

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treating physician.

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treating physician’s opinion generally is afforded the greatest weight

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in disability cases, it is not binding on an ALJS with respect to the

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existence of an impairment or the ultimate determination of

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disability.”

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2001).

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whether or not that opinion is contradicted,” and “need not accept a

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treating physician’s opinion . . . with little in the way of clinical

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findings . . . .”

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v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995)(noting that the ALJS

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need not accept a treating physician’s opinion that is brief,

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conclusory, and unsubstantiated by objective medical evidence).

24

See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996).

See Batson, 359 F.3d at 1194-95.

“Although a

Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir.

“The ALJS may disregard the treating physician’s opinion

See Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 751; see also Johnson

A review of the medical record confirms that Dr. Mejia treated

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Plaintiff’s mental impairments from August 2001 to October 2002.

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AR 412-19, 453-59.)

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name, he summarized her observations and conclusions--along with those

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of a social worker on Dr. Mejia’s staff--at considerable length:

(See

Although the ALJS did not mention Dr. Mejia by

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Mental health records show [Plaintiff] was seen on August

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20, 2001 with complaints of depression, auditor[y]

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hallucinations, paranoid, and isolative behavior.

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[Plaintiff] was consuming a six pack of beer a day, and he

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last used drugs two days prior to his evaluation.

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diagnosed with major depression, recurrent, severe, with

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psychotic features (provisional).

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September 13, 2001 and November 14, 2001, for renewal of

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Zoloft and Zyprexa medications.

He was

[Plaintiff] was seen on

[He] returned on January 2,

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2002, when he reported improvement with medication; however,

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he continued to feel depressed and was still hearing voices.

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Mental status examination revealed [he] had a depressed mood

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[and] a brighter affect.

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His medication was increased.

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[Plaintiff’s] mood was depressed.

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affect, and was calm and coherent.

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auditory hallucinations and no suicidal ideation.

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[Plaintiff] returned in June 2002, when he reported he had

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been without medication for the past three months.

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reported that when he uses his medication, he is able to

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sleep well and has less depression.

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[Plaintiff] reported that he continues to hear voices

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several times a week.

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improved.

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retardation or agitation, no abnormal movements, and

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positive attitude.

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rate/volume.

His mood was positive and his affect was

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appropriate.

Thoughts were logical and sequential.

He was [calm], pleasant, coherent. In February 2002 He had appropriate He reported decreased [¶]

He

In August 2002

He indicated that his depression had

Mental status examination revealed no evidence of

Speech was coherent with normal

9

His

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medication dosage was increased.

The final record in

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September 2002 indicated [that Plaintiff] feels that Zoloft

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was helping.

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(See AR 21 (citations to record omitted).)

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pertinent portions of Dr. Mejia’s notes and conclusions was complete.

6

The ALJ’s summary of the

Plaintiff complains that the ALJS failed to notice that Dr. Mejia

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had given him a GAF score of 35 on August 20, 2001.

(See Joint Stip.

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at 5.)

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(see Joint Stip. at 7), a careful reading of the medical record

Although the Agency appears to concede that Dr. Mejia did so,

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indicates that neither Dr. Mejia nor any other treating source ever

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opined that Plaintiff had a GAF of 35.

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Plaintiff refers was not made by Dr. Mejia; rather, it was made by

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“Jill M. Walker, M.S.W.”

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not a licensed or certified psychologist.

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§§ 404.1513(a), 416.913(a)(listing acceptable medical sources).

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is a social worker.

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acting as the “agent” of any doctor when she performed the GAF

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assessment on August 20, 2001.3

The GAF assessment to which

(See AR 415.)

Jill M. Walker, M.S.W., is See 20 C.F.R. She

Nor does the record show that Ms. Walker was

In these circumstances, although the

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3

A social worker can be an “acceptable source” of medical evidence only if she acts as an agent of a licensed physician or psychologist. See Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 970-71 (9th Cir. 1996). This occurs where the social worker acts so “closely under the supervision” of the treating physician that the social worker’s opinion should be “properly considered as part of the opinion” of the treating physician. See id. at 971. Plaintiff does not contend, and the evidence does not reflect, that Ms. Walker acted in such a capacity. Indeed, the record reflects that Dr. Mejia did not see Plaintiff until three weeks after Ms. Walker’s GAF assessment, on September 23, 2001. (See AR 415.) The record further shows that-whenever Dr. Mejia concurred with the diagnostic impressions or the treatment recommendations of a staff-member–-her usual practice was to write “I concur with above” and countersign. (See AR 455.) No such notation appears on Ms. Walker’s notes. 10

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regulations would have permitted the ALJS to consider Ms. Walker’s

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assessment, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d), her opinion was

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not entitled to any special deference.

4

F.2d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 1990), rev’d en banc on other grounds, 947

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F.2d 341 (9th Cir. 1991).

See Bunnell v. Sullivan, 912

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Plaintiff next complains that the ALJS did not defer to Dr.

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Mejia’s failure to diagnose any substance abuse disorder, (see AR 7),

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an indirect attack on the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s substance

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abuse was material to his disability.

Under the controlling statute,

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an individual cannot be found to be disabled “if alcoholism or drug

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abuse would . . . be a contributing factor material to the

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Commissioner’s determination that the individual is disabled.”

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U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C).

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whole or in part, on alcoholism, benefits are denied.

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means that the ALJS must determine whether a claimant’s alcoholism is

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a contributing factor material to the finding of disability.

17

C.F.R. § 416.935.

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still continue to have mental problems if he stopped using alcohol.

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See Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1245 (9th Cir. 1998).

20

ALJS determines that alcohol abuse is a contributing factor material

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to the finding of disability, the claimant has the burden of rebutting

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that determination by presenting evidence as to whether his disability

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would remain if he stopped using alcohol.

24

F.3d 817, 821 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Sousa, 143 F.3d at 1245.

25

See 42

Thus, if a claimant’s disability is based, in See id.

This

See 20

The deciding factor is whether the claimant would

Once the

See Ball v. Massanari, 254

Against this standard, it is clear that the ALJS was not required

26

to give Dr. Mejia’s failure to diagnose Plaintiff’s substance abuse

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disorder any special weight.

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confirmed that Plaintiff is, in fact, a chronic abuser of drugs and

For one thing, overwhelming evidence

11

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alcohol.

The record is rife with evidence that Plaintiff is addicted

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to hard liquor, beer, and as many as five illegal street drugs.

3

AR 274-76 (noting Plaintiff’s “long history of alcohol abuse”); 307

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(recording Plaintiff’s confession to using “[o]ne bottle of brandy and

5

a 12-pack of beer per day”); 374-75 (noting Plaintiff’s December 2000

6

admission that he drank “large volumes” of malt liquor daily, used

7

cocaine “for one week straight” and had used marijuana within the

8

previous week, PCP within the last month, and methamphetamine within

9

the last two months); 367 (noting that Plaintiff had admitted to drug

(See

10

abuse and “polysubstance abuse of ethanol, cocaine, and marijuana”);

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378 (memorializing Plaintiff’s December 2000 admission that he had

12

used marijuana one week earlier, PCP one month earlier, and drank

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alcohol twice monthly); 383 (recording Plaintiff’s December 2000

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admission that he “drinks alcoholic beverages on occasion”); 421

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(noting Plaintiff’s October 2001 admission that he “has a six-pack or

16

a twelve pack and some ‘shots of liquor’ at least three or four days a

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week”).)

18

confession to Ms. Walker that he “last smoked THC two days” before his

19

initial consultation on August 20, 2001 (see AR 416)--Dr. Mejia’s

20

failure to make even a “rule-out” diagnosis made her impressions

21

inconsistent with the weight of the evidence, and perhaps even

22

aberrant.

23

2001)(noting that a treating source medical opinion that is

24

inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record is not

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entitled to controlling weight).

26

Plaintiff’s understatement of his addiction to Ms. Walker may have

27

lulled Dr. Mejia into believing that his drug addiction was not

In light of this evidence--which included Plaintiff’s

See Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F. 3d 1195, 1202 (9th Cir.

Moreover, to the extent that

28 12

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chronic,4 her opinions--which relied on second-hand recitations of

2

Plaintiff’s unreliable statements of his own condition--properly were

3

not given controlling weight.5

4

pointed to any evidence that his drug and alcohol abuse were

5

immaterial to a finding of disability.6

Most importantly, Plaintiff has not

6 7 4

8 9 10

Plaintiff understated or even denied his drug and alcohol addictions on a number of occasions. (See AR 431 (memorializing Plaintiff’s statement to an examining psychiatrist in October 2001 that he “never drank alcohol in his life”); see also AR 559 (recording Plaintiff’s claim at the January 2003 hearing that he had never used cocaine, marijuana, or heroin).)

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12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

On this point, the Court notes that the ALJ offered a lengthy explanation of why he considered much of Plaintiff’s testimony to be incredible. (See AR 24.) Plaintiff has not challenged this adverse credibility determination. (See generally Joint Stip.) Because “[c]redibility determinations are the province of the ALJ,” see Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604 (9th Cir. 1989), this Court will not second-guess an unchallenged credibility finding. See Solomon v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, No. 91-CV-77171 DT, 1992 WL 478586, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 13, 1992)(“The Plaintiff has not challenged the ALJ’s determination of her credibility, and the Court accepts it as accurate.”). This means that Plaintiff cannot show that the ALJ erred in declining to give controlling weight to the treating physician’s opinion, “which was based in large part on [the claimant’s] statements.” See Siska v. Barnhart, No. C 00-4788 MMC, 2002 WL 31750220, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2002).

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Indeed, the record reflects that Plaintiff’s other claimed limitations were not disabling. See AR 19-20 (ALJ’s summary of the medical evidence); see also AR 210-13 (June 1999 report of internal medical examiner finding no physical limitations); 215-18 (January 2000 report of internal medical examiner finding no physical limitations); 219 (January 2000 radiology report finding no evidence of back injury); 220 (January 2000 consultative physician’s report noting that Plaintiff’s ulcer was relieved with Tagamet and Mylanta); 420-27 (October 2001 report of orthopedic examiner concluding that Plaintiff’s claimed injuries to his lower back and left foot did not result in any functional limitations), 429-34 (October 2001 report of psychiatric examiner finding “evidence of exaggeration and possible manipulation during the interview” and finding no limitation as a result of Plaintiff’s alleged mental impairments.) 13

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Finally, Dr. Mejia did not render an “opinion of disability,” as

1 2

Plaintiff contends.

(See Joint Stip. at 7.)

3

to opining that Plaintiff was disabled was Ms. Walker, who believed

4

that Plaintiff suffered from “[s]evere depression recurrent[,] severe

5

with psychotic features.”

6

Mejia did not adopt this diagnosis without qualification; instead, she

7

wrote the word “provisional” after it, and signed beneath that word.

8

(See AR 415.)

9

his symptoms improved when he took his prescription medication, but

(See AR 415.)

The closest anyone came

Significantly, however, Dr.

As Plaintiff continued seeing Dr. Mejia, she noted that

10

worsened whenever he stopped taking his medicine.7

11

The ALJS duly noted this correlation when he summarized Plaintiff’s

12

history of treatment with Dr. Mejia.

13

(See AR 454-56.)

(See AR 21.)

In sum, a review of the voluminous medical record in this case

14

confirms that the ALJ’s assessment of the treating source medical

15

evidence was both fair and complete.

16

rejects Plaintiff’s claim that the ALJS gave Dr. Mejia’s opinions and

17

impressions short shrift.

18

B.

For this reason, the Court

The ALJ’s Failure To Mention The Opinion Of A Social Worker Is

19

Not Reversible Error

20

Plaintiff also argues that reversal is necessary because the ALJS

21

did not address the opinion of Jill Walker, the social worker who had

22

written treatment notes to the effect that Plaintiff suffered from

23 24 7

25 26 27 28

Dr. Mejia noted that Plaintiff’s compliance with medication was never better than “fair,” (see AR 412, 454-55, 459), and occasionally was much worse than that. (See AR 456 (noting Plaintiff’s “fair to poor” compliance with his prescription medication regimen and recording his admission that he had “been without meds for past three months”); see also AR 453, 457 (recording Plaintiff had been a “no show” for his monthly appointments).) 14

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1

“severe” depression on August 20, 2001.

2

For reasons similar to those set forth above, the Court concludes that

3

this claim lacks merit.

4

(See Joint Stip. at 3-4.)

Generally, Plaintiff contends that “it does not appear that the

5

ALJ considered [Ms. Walker’s opinion].”

6

the foregoing discussion of the GAF score that the parties erroneously

7

attribute to Dr. Mejia indicates, however, it is clear that the ALJ

8

did consider Ms. Walker’s impressions; indeed, he cited and summarized

9

the documentation of Ms. Walker’s consultation with Plaintiff on

(See Joint Stip. at 4.)

10

August 20, 2001.

11

record confirms that the ALJ did “consider[] all of the medical

12

evidence,” as he noted in his decision.

13

(See AR 21, 414-19.)

As

Accordingly, a review of the

(See AR 24.)

More concretely, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ “did not

14

explain his apparent discounting” of Ms. Walker’s impressions.

15

Joint Stip. at 4.)

16

medical sources within the meaning of the regulations.

17

§§ 404.1513(a), 416.913(a).

18

are not afforded any particular deference, “there is no requirement

19

that the Commissioner accept or specifically refute such evidence.”

20

Bunnell, 912 F.2d at 1152.

21

explained what weight--if any--he gave Ms. Walker’s impressions.

22

Finally, even if the ALJ should have addressed Ms. Walker’s

23

assessment that Plaintiff was “severely depressed, has A/H, paranoia,

24

unable to acquire a job, has no friends, [and] isolates” with greater

25

specificity, (see Joint Stip. at 3), any error was harmless in this

26

case.

27

that, without prescription medication, Plaintiff suffered from severe

28

depression and auditory hallucinations.

(See

Again, social workers like Ms. Walker are not See 20 C.F.R.

Because the opinions of social workers

Thus, the ALJ need not have specifically

The ALJ specifically addressed other evidence in the record

15

(See AR 20-21.)

Insofar as

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1

Ms. Walker’s observations were based almost entirely on self-reported

2

symptoms from a claimant whose testimony the ALJS found unreliable,

3

(see AR 24), her opinions--including her GAF assessment--were not

4

especially probative of Plaintiff’s condition.

5

2317980 (noting that the ALJS properly rejected a GAF assessment of 35

6

where the claimant had understated his alcoholism).

7

terse handling of Ms. Walker’s notes appears to have been justified by

8

and subsumed within his adverse credibility determination.8

9

Siska, 2002 WL 31750220 at *3.

See Street, 2005 WL

Thus, the ALJ’s

See

The ALJS need not have addressed Ms.

10

Walker’s statement that Plaintiff was “unable to acquire a job,” (see

11

AR 419), because it was immaterial to the question of his disability.9

12

Even if the ALJS should have delved more deeply into this social

13

worker’s August 20, 2001 consultation notes, his failure to do so was

14

harmless in the circumstances.

15

See Batson, 359 F.3d at 1197.

In the final analysis, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the

16

ALJS erred in analyzing the medical evidence.

17

not entitled to relief.

For that reason, he is

18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

8

For example, Plaintiff’s statement to Ms. Walker to the effect that he “has no friends,” (see AR 419), appears to be belied by his admissions elsewhere in the record “that he has several friends.” (See AR 274.) Additionally, at least one physician found Plaintiff’s claim that he suffered from auditory hallucinations to be “highly unlikely and not very credible.” (See AR 432.) 9

Obstacles to finding work--as opposed to a medical disability that prevents a claimant from performing it--do not warrant SSI benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 220.131(c)(noting that a claimant is not disabled if she retains the residual functional capacity and vocational abilities to do work which exists in the national economy but remains unemployed because of “her inability to get work”). 16

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1

V.

2

CONCLUSION

3

For all the foregoing reasons, the Court concludes that the

4

Agency’s decision is free from material error.

5

is dismissed with prejudice.

Accordingly, this case

6 7

IT IS SO ORDERED.

8 9

DATED:

November

14

, 2005.

10 /s/

11 12

PATRICK J. WALSH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

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