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Espinoza v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 13, 2013

SAMUEL ESPINOZA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES F. EICK, Magistrate Judge.

PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 23, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties filed a consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on March 5, 2013.

Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on July 12, 2013. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on August 2, 2013. The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; "Order, " filed January 28, 2013.

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

Plaintiff asserted disability since November 26, 2008, based primarily on alleged back problems (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 53-65, 188-95). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff, a medical expert and a vocational expert (A.R. 18-252, 258-462). The ALJ found Plaintiff has severe "diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, " but retains the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of medium work (A.R. 26-34). In accordance with the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that a person so limited could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as a "cloth beamer, " as well as other jobs existing in significant numbers (A.R. 35-37; see A.R. 94-108). The Appeals Council considered additional evidence, but denied review (A.R. 1-6).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), this Court reviews the Administration's decision to determine if: (1) the Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used proper legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner , 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue , 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence 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) (citation and quotations omitted); Widmark v. Barnhart , 454 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

Where, as here, the Appeals Council considered additional material but denied review, the additional material becomes part of the Administrative Record for purposes of the Court's analysis. See Brewes v. Commissioner , 682 F.3d 1157, 1163 (9th Cir. 2012) ("[W]hen the Appeals Council considers new evidence in deciding whether to review a decision of the ALJ, that evidence becomes part of the administrative record, which the district court must consider when reviewing the Commissioner's final decision for substantial evidence."; expressly adopting Ramirez v. Shalala , 8 F.3d 1449, 1452 (9th Cir. 1993)); Taylor v. Commissioner , 659 F.3d 1228, 1231 (2011) (courts may consider evidence presented for the first time to the Appeals Council "to determine whether, in light of the record as a whole, the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was free of legal error"); Penny v. Sullivan , 2 F.3d 953, 957 n.7 (9th Cir. 1993) ("the Appeals Council considered this information and it became part of the record we are required to review as a whole"); see generally 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.970(b), 416.1470(b).

DISCUSSION

After consideration of the record as a whole, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied. The Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material[2] legal error. Plaintiff's contrary arguments are unavailing.[3]

I. The ALJ Did Not Materially Err in Evaluating Plaintiff's Credibility.

Although Plaintiff testified to subjective symptomatology of allegedly disabling severity, the ALJ found this testimony less than fully credible (A.R. 32, 53-65). Contrary to Plaintiff's arguments, the ALJ did not thereby materially err.

An ALJ's assessment of a claimant's credibility is entitled to "great weight." Anderson v. Sullivan , 914 F.2d 1121, 1124 (9th Cir. 1990); Nyman v. Heckler , 779 F.2d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 1985). The discounting of a claimant's testimony regarding subjective symptoms must be supported by specific, cogent findings. See Lester v. Chater , 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Berry v. Astrue , 622 F.3d 1228, 1234 (9th Cir. 2010) (reaffirming same); but see Smolen v. Chater , 80 F.3d 1273, 1282-84 (9th Cir. 1996) (indicating that ALJ must offer "specific, clear and convincing" reasons to reject a claimant's testimony ...


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