United States District Court, D. Arizona
CINDY K. JORGENSON, District Judge.
On February 14, 2014, Magistrate Judge Charles R. Pyle issued a Report and Recommendation ("RR") (Doc. 35) in which he recommended that this matter be remanded for an immediate award of benefits. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") has filed an Objection (Doc. 37) and Plaintiff Martin Bayze ("Bayze") has filed a response (Doc. 38).
I. Report and Recommendation
This Court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Further, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), if a party makes a timely objection to a magistrate judge's recommendation, then this Court is required to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the [report and recommendation] to which objection is made." See also Schmidt v. Johnstone, 263 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1226 (D.Ariz. 2003) (reading the Ninth Circuit's decision in Reyna-Tapia as adopting the view that district courts are not required to review "any issue that is not the subject of an objection"); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114 (9th Cir.2003) (disregarding the standard of review employed by the district court when reviewing a report and recommendation to which no objections were made).
The Commissioner argues the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") weighing of the medical opinion testimony and credibility finding are supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner requests this Court to affirm the ALJ's decision. Alternatively, the Commissioner requests the Court, if it find that substantial evidence does not support the Commissioner's decision, to remand for further proceedings.
II. Standard of Review
The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), and a decision to overturn a denial of benefits is appropriate only if the denial "is not supported by substantial evidence or [if the denial] is based on legal error." Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992), citations omitted; Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149 (9th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). The standard is less than a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019. Further, a denial of benefits is to be set aside if the Commissioner has failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence even though the findings may be supported by substantial evidence. Frost v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 359, 367 (9th Cir. 2002). Indeed, this Court must consider both evidence that supports, and evidence that detracts from, the conclusion of the ALJ. Frost, 314 F.3d at 366-67.
III. ALJ's Weighing of the Medical Opinion Evidence
The Commissioner disagrees with the magistrate judge's finding that the ALJ's stated reasons for rejecting the opinions of treating physicians Saul Perea, M.D., and Richard V. Barnes, M.D., were insufficient.
A. Opinions of Treating Physicians
Bayze's contact with treating physician Dr. Perea appears to have began in May 2006 when Bayze was taken to the hospital after his mother called 911 because Bayze threatened to cut his throat with a knife. Bayze reported multiple suicide attempts and auditory hallucinations of voices telling him to kill himself. Later in May 2006 and in June 2006, Bayze reported Risperdal and anti-depression medication made the voices tolerable. Subsequently, Bayze reported auditory hallucinations of multiple voices telling him to kill himself, increased irritability, problems sleeping, suicidal ideation, use of crystal meth and prior use of cocaine. Additionally, Bayze reported he was exposed to heavy solvents and paint fumes in his work as a painter for the past 20 years.
In August 2006, Perea observed that Bayze was clean, sober, and his auditory hallucinations were much improved. A Mental Impairment Assessment indicated a history of depression with psychosis and at least one suicide attempt. It was unclear if Bayze's symptoms were related to his chemical dependency. Dr. Perea noted Bayze's auditory hallucinations were decreasing in frequency and intensity. Additionally, Bayze's speech and memory were within normal limits and Bayze was not significantly limited in most areas of consideration. Dr. Perea's diagnosis was psychotic disorder NOS.
In November 2006, another Mental Impairment Assessment was completed. As summarized by the magistrate judge:
Dr. Perea indicated that Plaintiff's memory was "fair abnormal", Plaintiff was unable to process detailed instructions, and the majority of his abilities to sustain concentration and persistence, to maintain appropriate social interactions (accept instruction and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and get along with co-workers), and to adapt, were limited to the extent that they were "abnormal". (AR. 835-37). Dr. Perea cited Plaintiff's psychosis NOS and the fact that Plaintiff was under acute pain treatment with narcotic medication. (AR. 836, 838; see also AR. 876 (Dr. Perea noted on November 20, 2006 that Plaintiff had recently been in a car accident, suffered neck strain and a concussion, and had been prescribed Hydrocodone)).
RR, p. 7.
Dr. Perea gave two opinions regarding Bayze's work-related abilities. In August 2006, Dr. Perea opined that Bayze did not have any restrictions in his ability to perform daily activities, checked boxes on a form indicating that Bayze was not significantly limited in 17 areas of work-related functioning, and opined that Bayze's abilities "may be affected" in the other three areas of work-related functioning (Administrative Record ("AR") 534-37). In November 2006, Dr. Perea opined that Bayze was not significantly limited in only six areas of work-related functioning (as opposed to 17), was unable to process detailed instructions altogether, and ...