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Bruno v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 7, 2014

SCOTT A. BRUNO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Scott A. Bruno brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's application for supplemental security income. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on January 29, 2010. The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined plaintiff is not disabled. TR 22.[1] The ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of Dr. Mohler, the treating orthopedic surgeon, and in finding plaintiff not credible. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this matter is remanded for payment of benefits.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "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.'" Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, we review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment' for that of the Commissioner." Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1996)).

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920 (2012). The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Id.

At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff's "chronic pain status post left hip fracture repair, morbid obesity, mood disorder NOS, and history of significant polysubstance dependence with ongoing alcohol abuse" qualified as "severe" impairments under the regulations. TR 12.

The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to peform sedentary work, with no more than occasional postural activities while avoiding concentrated exposure to extreme cold and workplace hazards. TR 14. The ALJ also limited plaintiff to performing simple, routine tasks consistent with entry-level work, which does not involve more than occasional contact with the public. Id . A vocational expert testified that a person with the RFC as stated by the ALJ could work as an eyeglass frame polisher or toy stuffer. The ALJ determined plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. TR 22.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in weighing certain medical opinions and in determining plaintiff was not credible. I agree.

Dr. Mohler's Opinion

Where there exists conflicting medical evidence, the ALJ is charged with determining credibility and resolving any conflicts. Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661, 671 (9th Cir. 2012). "If a treating or examining doctor's opinion is contradicted by another doctor's opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence...." Id. (quoting Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005).

On July 19, 2010, Dr. Mohler, plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon, wrote a letter on plaintiff's behalf. TR 326. The letter stated Dr. Mohler's opinion that plaintiff suffers chronic pain in his hip following a partial hip replacement 20 years earlier. Id. Dr. Mohler opined plaintiff "is unable to work at his previous job at the mill. Furthermore, he is unable to work at this time at any job because he has recurrent subluxations of the left hip, making it impossible to sit or stand at a job." Id. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Mohler's opinion that plaintiff could not work because plaintiff could not sit or stand. TR 18.

When Dr. Mohler examined plaintiff in January 2007, X-rays showed "dissociation of the bipolar hemiarthroplasty with separation of the femoral head from the bipolar hemiarthroplasty." TR 208. Six days later, X-rays revealed the femoral head had "reduced into the bipolar component." Id. Dr. Mohler concluded plaintiff would benefit from a metal-to-metal hip replacement. TR 209. Based on concerns about ...


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