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Fitzgerald v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division

June 12, 2014

LORI A. FITZGERALD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff appeals from the denial of her application for Social Security benefits. On appeal, the Court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in determining that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work. Therefore, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision and remands to the ALJ for reconsideration.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed applications for social security disability insurance ("SSDI") benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI"), alleging disability beginning November 23, 2009. Administrative Record ("AR") 13. On December 22, 2011, a hearing was held at which the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, an impartial medical expert ("ME"), and a vocational expert ("VE"). In an unfavorable decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform her past relevant work as an order clerk. AR 19.

II.

ISSUE PRESENTED

The parties dispute (1) whether the ALJ properly rejected the opinions of Plaintiff's treating pain specialist and chiropractor; (2) whether the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment and the hypotheticals posed to the VE had a basis in the record; and (3) whether the ALJ properly discredited Plaintiff's subjective pain and symptom testimony. See Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint ("Plaintiff's Memorandum") at 13-24; Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer 2-9 ("Commissioner's Memorandum").

III.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter , 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

IV.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's RFC assessment lacks a basis in the record. Plaintiff's Memorandum at 18-21. The Court's review of the record reveals an error in the ALJ's understanding and description of the ME's testimony. Moreover, even without that error, the ALJ's failure to include time-based restrictions on Plaintiff's ability to sit, stand, and walk was not supported by substantial evidence. Because the Court finds that the decision of ...


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