Lourdes Sanchez v. Jo Anne B Barnhart

Case 2:05-cv-02837-RZ Document 17 Filed 08/29/06 Page 1 of 4 Page ID #:55 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIF...

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Case 2:05-cv-02837-RZ Document 17 Filed 08/29/06 Page 1 of 4 Page ID #:55

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

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CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

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CASE NO. CV 05-02837 (RZ)

LOURDES SANCHEZ,

) ) Plaintiff, ) ) ) vs. ) JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner ) ) of Social Security Administration, ) ) Defendant. )

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

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Based on its agreement with Plaintiff as to the first of her three challenges to

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the underlying denial of disability benefits, the Court concludes that reversal is required.

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I.

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Plaintiff first challenges the Administrative Law Judge’s decision not to accept

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the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist, Thomas Curtis, M.D. The Administrative

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Law Judge rejected the opinion for two reasons: that Dr. Curtis (1) relied on Plaintiff’s

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subjective recounting of her complaints, without more, and (2) provided biased results

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because “claimant underwent the psychiatric examination that formed the basis of the

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opinion not in an attempt to seek treatment for symptoms, but rather, through attorney

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referral and in connection with an effort to generate evidence for, at the time, her worker’s

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compensation claim.” [AR 26-27.]

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The Administrative Law Judge was incorrect in implying that Dr. Curtis relied

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solely on subjective complaints for his opinions. His reports disclose that he also

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administered a number of clinical tests, and used those tests, in part, as the basis for his

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conclusions. [AR 217-30.]

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As to the Administrative Law Judge’s assertion that Dr. Curtis was biased

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because Plaintiff was referred to him by the attorney then aiding her in prosecuting her

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claim for worker’s compensation benefits, the Ninth Circuit has rejected such

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generalizations. In Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 832 (9th Cir. 1996), the Court stated that

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the purpose for which medical reports were obtained supplies no basis for rejecting them.

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Subsequently the Court noted, however, that such a comment in fact could be the basis for

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making a credibility determination. Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 522-23 (9th Cir. 1996);

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see also Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335 (9th Cir. 1998). The Commissioner relies on

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Saelee in this Court, but does not cite the later-decided case of Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d

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715 (9th Cir. 1998), decided over six years before the Commissioner filed her brief in this

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Court, in which the Ninth Circuit further refined the rule:

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Our opinions reveal that the mere fact that a medical report is

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provided at the request of counsel or, more broadly, the purpose

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for which an opinion is provided, is not a legitimate basis for

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evaluating the reliability of the report.

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circumstances under which the report was obtained and its

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consistency with other records, reports, or findings could,

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however, form a legitimate basis for evaluating the reliability of

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the report.

Evidence of the

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In Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335 (9th Cir. 1988), we

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rejected a doctor’s opinion in a letter requested by counsel where

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the opinion was unsupported by medical findings, personal

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observations or test reports. . . . However, in Lester, where there -2-

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was no sound basis for rejecting a doctor’s opinion that had been

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solicited by counsel, we stated that “the purpose for which

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medical reports are obtained does not provide a legitimate basis

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for rejcting them.” 81 F.3d at 832. In Saelee . . . we rejected a

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doctor’s opinion letter where “actual improprieties” had been

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found. . . . In Saelee, the doctor’s opinion letter varied from his

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treatment notes and “was worded ambiguously in an apparent

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attempt to assist [the claimant] in obtaining social security

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benefits.” . . . [T]he ALJ found that there was “no objective

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medical basis for the opinion. [citation]

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We clarify here that, in the absence of other evidence to

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undermine the credibility of a medical report, the purpose for

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which the report was obtained does not provide a legitimate

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basis for rejecting it.

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Reddick, 157 F.3d at 726. Here, there was no other evidence to undermine Dr. Curtis’s

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reports. The Administrative Law Judge does criticize the doctor for use of “generic

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phrases” such as “‘stressed’ and ‘unable to work,’ ‘unable to sleep,’ etc.” [AR 27 n.2],

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which might be persuasive evidence of an unpersuasive report if those remarks were not

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based on anything more than the doctor’s blithe acceptance of Plaintiff’s subjective

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complaints. In this instance, however, as noted above, they enjoyed at least some

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substantial support from clinical test results by Plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist. Although

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the circumstances and timing of Dr. Curtis’s examinations might draw additional scrutiny

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from any seasoned Administrative Law Judge, those circumstances do not, in and of

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themselves, justify a finding of Dr. Curtis’s bias.

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Accordingly, the reasons given by the Administrative Law Judge for rejecting

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the treating psychiatrist’s reports cannot stand. The opinion of a treating physician is given

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greater weight than the opinion of other physicians. Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033 -3-

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(9th Cir. 2001), and to reject it the Administrative Law Judge must give clear and cogent

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reasons, backed by substantial evidence. The decision here did not comply with those

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standards. Accordingly, the Administrative Law Judge erred, and remand is required for

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further consideration.

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The Court need not and does not address Plaintiff’s remaining arguments, but, on remand, the Commissioner may wish to take them into consideration.

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II.

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In accordance with the foregoing, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. IT IS SO ORDERED.

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DATED: August 29, 2006

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/s/ Ralph Zarefsky RALPH ZAREFSKY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

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