936 F2d 576 Bosnoyan v. Secretary of Health & Human Services
936 F.2d 576
NOTICE: Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3 provides that dispositions other than opinions or orders designated for publication are not precedential and should not be cited except when relevant under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel.
Katherine BOSNOYAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant-Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted June 4, 1991.
Decided June 18, 1991.
Before GOODWIN, PREGERSON and ALARCON, Circuit Judges.
Appellant Katherine Bosnoyan ("Claimant") applied to the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") for disability and supplemental security income benefits. Claimant maintained she was unable to return to her prior work as a dressmaker due to nervousness, high blood pressure, and chest and back pain she has suffered since 1985. After the Secretary denied her application and claimant exhausted her administrative remedies, claimant appealed the decision to the district court. The district court granted summary judgment for the Secretary on the grounds that the Secretary's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Claimant timely appeals, and we affirm.
* We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir.1985). Our review of the Secretary's decision is limited: we will set aside his denial of benefits only if his findings are based upon legal error, or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir.1984). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Allen, 749 F.2d at 579. Where medical testimony is inconclusive or conflicting, it is the ALJ's role to determine credibility and resolve conflict. Allen, 749 F.2d at 579; Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir.1982). Where the evidence gives rise to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld. Id.
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that a medically determinable physical or mental impairment prevents her from engaging in a substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. Secs. 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); Villa v. Heckler, 797 F.2d 794, 796 (9th Cir.1986); Bilby v. Schweiker, 762 F.2d 716, 718. The claimant's alleged impairment must result from abnormalities demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. Secs. 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(C); Bilby, 762 F.2d at 718. The claimant has the burden of proving that she is disabled. Villa, 797 F.2d at 797.
A. Physical impairments
In her applications for benefits, claimant alleged that since an October 10, 1985 car accident, she has been disabled due to chest pain, low back pain, high blood pressure, nervousness, and depression. However, claimant submitted no testimony from a treating physician, nor any evidence that she ever received any treatment for her ailments.
The only medical evidence claimant submitted regarding her physical condition was from Dr. Ando, who performed a consultative internal medicine exam. The doctor found claimant had no difficulty performing the general examination maneuvers; that her walk was normal; that her chest x-ray was normal; that her EKG showed "a QRS complex in Lead 3" which was probably normal; that she had a left atrial abnormality; and that she had elevated blood pressure. A back examination was normal, and the doctor found no evidence of arthritis or musculo-skeletal impairment. The doctor diagnosed hypertension and atypical chest pain which was probably not anginal. He concluded that claimant's symptoms could probably be easily controlled with proper medication. He found no complications from claimant's hypertension, and did not report any disabling physical impairments.
At the hearing, claimant complained of pain over her entire body, chest pain once a month, headaches, and constant neck pain. The ALJ ruled that the claimant lacked credibility, and that her allegations regarding her physical limitations were not supported by the objective medical findings.
An ALJ is free to disbelieve a claimant's pain testimony if the claimant fails to submit objective medical findings that establish an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce such pain. Stewart v. Sullivan, 881 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir.1989); Swenson v. Sullivan, 876 F.2d 683 (9th Cir.1989). Here, the ALJ carefully reviewed the medical reports and concluded claimant's complaints of pain were not supported by any medical findings. He was thus free to reject claimant's testimony.
Moreover, despite claimant's complaints of pain and various ailments since 1985, the record indicates that claimant did not seek any treatment for her condition. Absent some explanation, claimant's failure to seek treatment further supports the ALJ's conclusion that her testimony lacked credibility. See Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604 (9th Cir.1989).
Because claimant failed to substantiate her claim with medical evidence, and because the ALJ may disregard a claimant's self-serving statements if they are unsupported by objective evidence, we affirm the ALJ's ruling that claimant is not physically disabled from continuing her light work as a dressmaker. See Taylor v. Heckler, 765 F.2d 872, 876 (9th Cir.1985).
B. Psychological impairment
The evidence regarding claimant's psychological condition consisted of reports from two examining doctors and testimony by a psychological medical advisor who reviewed claimant's file. Claimant was first examined by Dr. Yetenekian, who reported claimant complained of various emotional swings, anxiety, depression, tremors, palpitations, and difficulty concentrating and coping with stress. Dr. Yetenekian diagnosed dysthymic disorder (a mild form of depression), anxiety, and depression. He found no significant psychiatric disturbances. Dr. Yetenekian concluded claimant was disabled due to the dysthymic disorder, but indicated her prognosis was good.
Two months later, Dr. Valentine conducted a consultative psychiatric exam. The doctor found claimant mildly depressed and pessimistic, yet well-groomed, cooperative, and talkative. He diagnosed dysthymic disorder.
Dr. Walter, the medical advisor, concluded the prior reports showed no major psychological problems. He noted that claimant had some limitations in attention and concentration for extended periods, and some difficulty understanding and carrying out detailed instructions. He believed her lack of motivation contributed to her difficulties. Dr. Walter concluded that claimant's symptoms were minor, and did not prevent her from carrying out most work functions.
Although the doctors agreed claimant was mildly to moderately depressed, only Dr. Yetenekian found claimant disabled by her emotional condition. The ALJ disagreed with Dr. Yetenekian's conclusion on the grounds that the doctor's own findings did not warrant such a conclusion. The ALJ concluded that while the evidence showed that claimant suffered from mild depression, her condition did not significantly affect her ability to perform her activities as a dressmaker.
In determining that claimant's depression did not render her disabled, the ALJ agreed with medical advisor Dr. Walter and disagreed with Dr. Yetenekian, whose conclusion was based on a single examination of the claimant. We find the ALJ was well within his proper role in doing so. Consultive physician's reports may serve as substantial evidence. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 752 (9th Cir.1989). Where the evidence is conflicting, it is the province of the ALJ to resolve the conflict. Allen, 749 F.2d at 579. Moreover, if, as here, the evidence lends itself to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's decision. Id. We conclude that, given the conclusions of doctors Valentine and Walter, the ALJ's ruling that claimant is not psychologically disabled is supported by substantial evidence. See id.
This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3