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Sherwyn v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 3, 2018

Gina Dianne Sherwyn, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable Deborah M. Fine United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Gina Dianne Sherwyn appeals from the denial of her application for benefits from the Social Security Administration. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and, with the parties' consent to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Court will affirm the ALJ's opinion.

         Standard of Review

         This court must affirm the ALJ's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence and are free from reversible error. Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9thCir. 1990). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). If there is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9thCir. 1990). Thus, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision where the evidence considered in its entirety substantially supports it and the decision is free from reversible error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989).

         Analysis

         Sherwyn was 53 years old at her amended onset date and previously worked as a licensed practical nurse. (Tr. 37, 82) As relevant here, the ALJ concluded that she had the following severe impairments: chondromalacia of the patella (right knee), major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and a history of polysubstance dependence with opioid addition (reported remission). (Tr. 28-29) Sherwyn does not challenge this. On appeal, Sherwyn argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the opinion of the physician who conducted the physical examination and also that the ALJ should have incorporated the limitations described by her physical therapist. (Doc. 17).

         Lucia McPhee, M.D. Sherwyn alleged that she was disabled, in part, because of knee pain. As part of the development of this claim, she was evaluated by Lucia McPhee, M.D. Dr. McPhee's report concluded with four impressions:

1. Chronic right knee complaints with reported chondromalacia patella. There are limited findings on examination at this time. It appears there has been some improvement with her treatment thus far based on the limited clinical examination findings. Symptoms may continue to improve.
2. Complaints of low back pain with intermittent exacerbations. This may improve with conservative measures.
3. Presumed early degeneration in right hand in particular.
4. Allegation of depression, which is deferred to separate psychological evaluation.

(Tr. 360) Dr. McPhee's report then ascribed limitations to Sherwyn that were consistent with light duty restrictions. (Tr. 360-62)

         The ALJ's opinion reviewed Dr. McPhee's evaluation and assigned it “little weight because it [wa]s inconsistent with the medical evidence, ” described an x-ray, and then stated that “Dr. McPhee's limitations are not supported by the x-ray.” Finally, the ALJ opinion appears to agree with the State agency consultants' conclusion that Dr. McPhee's “opinion was ‘too restrictive.'” (Tr. 35)

         Although perhaps inartfully explained, the ALJ's decision to assign little weight to Dr. McPhee is supported by the record. The ALJ's decision referred to an x-ray that Dr. McPhee had ordered during her evaluation. (Tr. 365) That contemporaneous x-ray of Sherwyn's right knee showed no “injury or substantial degenerative changes.” (Tr. 365) Dr. McPhee did not explain, and it is ...


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