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Rosenzweig v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 7, 2018

JOSEPH I. ROSENZWEIG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security for Operations, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          DAVID W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joseph I. Rosenzweig filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 5.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly assessed the medical opinion of Dr. Anita Afzali M.D., [1] Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), and the 12-month durational requirement to establish disability. As the ALJ's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of February 26, 2013. See Dkt. 8, Administrative Record (“AR”) 68-74. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 68-75. A hearing was held before ALJ Glenn G. Meyers on November 17, 2016. See AR 26-35. A subsequent hearing was held on April 4, 2017 for the purpose of obtaining additional medical records, and Plaintiff amended his disability application to a closed period of disability from February 26, 2013 through January 15, 2017. AR 36-67. In a decision dated April 17, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 10-25. On September 13, 2017, Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's April 17, 2017 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly analyze the medical opinion evidence of Dr. Afzali; (2) failing to account for the limitations related to Plaintiff's severe ulcerative colitisor inflammatory bowel disease (“IBD”)[2] in the RFC; and (3) concluding Plaintiff did not meet the durational requirement to establish disability during the closed period. Dkt. 10.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ erred by failing to properly analyze the medical opinion evidence.

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of treating physician, Dr. Afzali. Dkt. 10 at 3-14.

         The ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or examining physician. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988); Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1990)). When a treating or examining physician's opinion is contradicted, the opinion can be rejected “for specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31 (citing Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 1995); Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983)). The ALJ can accomplish this by “setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         In this case, the only medical opinion evidence comes from Dr. Afzali, Plaintiff's treating gastroenterologist. In September 2016, Dr. Afzali diagnosed Plaintiff with IBD. AR 247, 251.

         Dr. Afzali noted the length of contact with Plaintiff was approximately one year.[3] AR 247, 251. Dr. Afzali completed two check-box medical opinion questionnaires, one for Plaintiff's physical activities and another for his mental impairments. See AR 247-253. With respect to Plaintiff's physical activities, Dr. Afzali opined Plaintiff needed to take unscheduled breaks three to four times per day, each lasting ten minutes. AR 247. She opined Plaintiff would be absent from work more than twice per month. AR 249. With respect to Plaintiff's mental impairments, she opined Plaintiff had a fair ability to maintain attention for two-hour periods and maintain regular attendance and be punctual with customary, usually strict tolerances. AR 252. She opined Plaintiff's mental impairments would cause him to be absent from work about twice per month. AR 253.

         The ALJ stated he gave minimal weight to Dr. Afzali's opinion because: (1) Dr. Afzali's opinion was inadequately supported by the clinical findings and (2) Dr. Afzali's ...


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