United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge
before the Court is Claimant Robert Kenneth Smith's
appeal of the Social Security Administration's (SSA)
decision to deny disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 28).
For the following reasons, the Court affirms the denial of
Smith filed for disability benefits on April 25, 2007,
alleging a disability onset date of January 9, 2008. His date
last insured was June 30, 2010. His claim was first denied by
an administrative law judge (ALJ) on January 27, 2010. After
an appeal to the District Court, the Commissioner moved to
have the case remanded. The remand resulted in another denial
of benefits on March 22, 2013. The Appeals Council remanded
the matter for a third hearing. The ALJ held a hearing on
April 12, 2016. The ALJ determined that Mr. Smith had the
following severe impairments: coronary artery disease with
status post atherectomy, myocardial infarction,
hyperlipidemia, hypertriglyceridemia, degenerative disc
disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, cervical
spondylosis and stenosis, status post cervical discectomy,
status post right knee arthroscopy, peripheral neuropathy,
and obesity. (Tr. 537). With these impairments taken into
account, the ALJ found that Mr. Smith had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with certain
restrictions. (Tr. 540). Because the ALJ determined that Mr.
Smith could perform work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy, the ALJ found that Mr. Smith was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 548). The
Appeals Council denied the request to review, making the
Commissioner's decision final. (Tr. 513-15). Mr. Smith
now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
reviewing federal court will address only the issues raised
by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision.
See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n. 13 (9th
Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of
disability benefits when that denial is either unsupported by
substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial
evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). It is
“relevant evidence which, considering the record as a
whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation
is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
When evidence is “subject to more than one rational
interpretation, [courts] must defer to the ALJ's
conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so
because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must
resolve conflicts in evidence, and if the evidence can
support either outcome, the court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ.” Matney v.
Sullivan, 981, F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992)
alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) improperly rejecting the
treating physician's opinions; (2) improperly rejecting
the Claimant's credibility; and (3) failing to resolve a
conflict between the Vocational Expert's (VE) testimony
and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).
Weight Afforded to Treating Physician's Opinions
“treating physician” is one who actually treats
the claimant. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). When a treating doctor's opinion is not
contradicted by another doctor, it may only be rejected for
clear and convincing reasons. Id. If a treating
doctor's opinion is contradicted by another doctor, it
may only be rejected for “specific and legitimate
reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record for
so doing.” Id. (citations omitted). Mr.
Smith's treating physician--Doctor Troy
Anderson--submitted reports opining that Mr. Smith was
disabled and unable to work. (Tr.). The ALJ gave his opinions
Anderson submitted a letter on January 9, 2008 which details
Mr. Smith's diagnoses and states: “The patient is
no longer [able] to work. His prognosis is poor. I do not
expect recovery.” (Tr. 391). SSA guidelines in place at
the time of the ALJ's decision provide that
“treating source opinions on issues that are reserved
to the Commissioner are never entitled to controlling weight
or special significance.” SSR 96-5p. The ALJ cannot
ignore such opinions, but the ALJ also cannot give the
opinion controlling weight and “abdicat[e] [ ] the
Commissioner's statutory responsibility to determine
whether an individual is disabled. Id. The ALJ did
not ignore Dr. Anderson's letter, but the ALJ did assign
it minimal weight in accordance with the regulations.
Claimant further argues that the ALJ erred by failing to
consider the other statements in Dr. Anderson's letter,
recounting the Claimant's peripheral neuropathy and other
illnesses. But the ALJ did discuss these diagnoses throughout
the record, and in fact, the ALJ found that these were severe
impairments. Finally, Claimant objects to the ALJ's
statement that Dr. Anderson's observation that the
Claimant has an inability to drive conflicts with the
Claimant's own statements about driving at the time. The
ALJ was not expressing a view that a disabled person could
never drive; rather the ALJ was pointing out inconsistencies
which tended to make Dr. Anderson's opinion less
October 7, 2009, Dr. Anderson submitted an RFC assessment.
The ALJ assigned minimal weight to this opinion because Dr.
Anderson did not discuss any objective findings to support
the RFC limitations and because Dr. Anderson's findings
that Claimant's medications caused impairments were not
supported by the record. ALJ's “may discredit
treating physicians' opinions that are conclusory, brief,
and unsupported by the record as a whole, . . . or by
objective medical findings.” Batson, 359 F.3d
at 1195. Claimant disputes that the record supports the
ALJ's conclusion that he tolerated his medicine well. But
where the evidence is “subject to more than one
rational interpretation, [courts] must defer to the ALJ's
conclusion.” Id. at 1198. The ...