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Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 12, 2018

Danny Earl Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Claimant Danny Earl Johnson's appeal of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to deny disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. (Doc. 15). For the following reasons, the Court affirms the denial of benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         Danny Johnson filed for disability and supplemental security income benefits on June 26, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 22, 2013. His claim was denied on October 4, 2013; reconsideration was denied on April 9, 2014. (Tr. 132, 141). Mr. Johnson requested a hearing from an administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held on November 3, 2015. The ALJ determined that Mr. Johnson had the following severe impairments: status post lumbar fusion, status post left hemicolectomy for resection of colon cancer, hypertension, obesity, chronic pain syndrome, opioid dependence, and depressive disorder. (Tr. 25). With these impairments, the ALJ found that Mr. Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work that is simple, routine, and repetitive. (Tr. 28). Because the ALJ determined that Mr. Johnson could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ found that Mr. Johnson was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 34). The Appeals Council denied the request to review, making the Commissioner's decision final. (Tr. 1- 4). Mr. Johnson now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         A 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 omitted).

         The ALJ 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) (citations omitted).

         II. Analysis

         Claimant alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) improperly rejecting Claimant's treating and state agency physicians' opinions and (2) failing to incorporate Claimant's limitations of concentration, persistence, and pace into the RFC. Claimant also argues that he is entitled to remand under sentence six of § 405(g) due to new and material evidence.

         A. Physicians' Opinions

         A “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. In general, the opinions of treating physicians are given more weight than examining non-treating physicians, and the opinions of examining physicians are given more weight than non-examining physicians. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(1)-(2). In the case of a treating doctor, the ALJ considers the length of the treatment relationship, and the nature and extent of the treatment relationship. Id. at § 404.1527(c)(2)(i)-(ii). For all medical providers, the ALJ considers factors such as whether the provider supports their opinion with evidence and whether the opinion is consistent with the medical record. Id. at § 404.1527(c)(3)-(6). Where substantial evidence contradicts a treating doctor's opinion, the doctor's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007).

         1. Dr. Laura Stewart

         Psychologist Dr. Laura Stewart completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment on November 3, 2015. Dr. Stewart marked that Claimant had moderately severe to severe impairments in all of the listed functions. (Tr. 826-27). Dr. Stewart stated that the time period covered by this assessment was from September 1, 2015 to September 1, 2015, the day Claimant began his opioid detoxification program. (Tr. 828, 794). The ALJ gave this opinion no weight, as a single day assessment could not satisfy the twelve-month durational requirement. (Tr. 32). A claimant must establish “an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any ...


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