Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. D.C. No. CV-88-548-AAM. Alan A. McDonald, District Judge, Presiding.
Before: Wright, Canby and Wiggins, Circuit Judges
Plaintiff-Appellant Betty Urvina appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary on her claim for social security disability insurance benefits. We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse.
Urvina's Medical Background
Urvina was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1985. She also suffers from rheumatic heart disease, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Her rheumatic heart disease has damaged her left mitral valve with the result that she suffers from mitral valve regurgitation. Urvina's ventricular ejection fraction is 71%. This fraction is sufficient so as not to require surgery to replace the mitral valve. However, as a result of this condition, Urvina suffers from extreme shortness of breath and becomes easily tired.
Urvina also has Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder. The disease has affected significantly her memory, her ability to concentrate, her vision, and her control over her extremities. She suffers from "restless leg" syndrome, experiences severe numbness in her hands and feet and has trouble manipulating her hands. She can no longer pursue her hobby of beadwork and cannot type. These are the symptoms which she exhibits while under medication. These symptoms would be much more severe without the medication and her treating physician indicated that her medications only keep her symptoms in "precarious control."
Both Urvina's rheumatic heart disease and Parkinson's disease are permanent, degenerative conditions.
The Administrative Hearing
The above described medical evidence was presented at the hearing in February of 1988. Urvina also testified at the hearing. In addition to being questioned about her medical condition, Urvina was also questioned about her daily activities. It is on this testimony that the ALJ based his rejection of the medical evidence provided by Urvina's treating physicians. Urvina testified that she played pool fairly regularly. But, she also testified that she had trouble gripping the pool cue and that she no longer had the strength to " break" the balls at the beginning of a game. She told the ALJ that she would sometimes babysit for her grandchildren because she was living in the same household with them. Finally, the ALJ asked her whether she did any dancing. She said yes, but told the ALJ that she had not danced in over a year. She also admitted that she would dance by herself sometimes while in the kitchen. This was the extent of the testimony regarding Urvina's daily activities. The ALJ did not further develop the testimony about dancing or babysitting in order to determine whether it was really inconsistent with her claimed medical impairments.
I. THE ALJ ERRED IN REJECTING THE UNCONTROVERTED MEDICAL TESTIMONY OF URVINA'S TREATING PHYSICIANS
It is well established that the ALJ must accord substantial weight to the opinion of a claimant's treating physician. Megallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989); Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 421 (9th Cir. 1988); Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502-03 (9th Cir. 1983). It is equally well established that although the ALJ is not bound by the treating physician's opinion, in the absence of conflicting medical testimony, he may disregard that opinion only in the face of clear and convincing evidence and he must state the evidence being relied upon on the record. Megallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747 (9th Cir. 1989).
The Secretary contends that there was clear and convincing evidence to support the ALJ's rejection of the opinions of Drs. Funk and Olsen that Urvina was disabled. The Secretary points to the testimony of Urvina to support this contention. The Secretary claims that the evidence about Urvina's dancing, babysitting and pool playing is clear and convincing evidence that she was not disabled. The Secretary places too much weight on the minimal testimony elicited at the hearing.
Urvina testified that she did some dancing approximately a year prior to filing her application. She indicated that the dancing lasted no more than thirty minutes at a time. She also stated she occasionally would dance with herself in the kitchen. This was the extent of the testimony with respect to Urvina's dancing. No attempt was made to define what Urvina meant by dancing. No attempt was made to determine how strenuous the "dancing" was. No attempt was made to determine how long Urvina would dance with herself in the kitchen and no attempt was made to determine the physical effect of the dancing on Urvina. The ALJ simply concluded that the "dancing" was strenuous and lasted for long periods of time, and was therefore inconsistent with Urvina's claim to be disabled.
The ALJ also viewed Urvina's pool playing as inconsistent with her claim of disability. If anything, Urvina's testimony on this subject corroborated rather than contradicted the opinions of her treating physicians. Urvina testified that she did play pool fairly regularly. However, she also testified that, as a result of the Parkinson's, she has trouble gripping the pool cue effectively and that she lacks the strength to "break" the balls at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, the ALJ did not attempt to determine how long Urvina would play nor what physical effect this activity had on her. The ALJ simply ...