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Kuharski v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 10, 2014

THEODORE M. KUHARSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion to amend the judgment by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). This motion seeks to amend the judgment entered after the undersigned granted plaintiff's application for summary judgment following the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). For the reasons discussed below, defendant's motion will be granted in part.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Theodore M. Kuharski filed an application for SSI on August 26, 2009, alleging disability beginning July 13, 2009. Administrative Record ("AR") 144-51. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on February 11, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on September 9, 2010. AR 87-92, 96-100. On September 7, 2011, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Carol A. Eckerson. AR 10-19. Plaintiff appeared with an attorney representative at the hearing, at which plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 31-82. Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act and issued an order denying benefits on November 18, 2011. AR 10-19. Plaintiff appealed, but his request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on February 17, 2012, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. AR 1-4.

On April 20, 2012, plaintiff initiated this action by filing his complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff filed his opening brief on October 1, 2012 asserting the ALJ erred by failing to consider plaintiff's post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") as a severe impairment, failing to credit plaintiff's statements and mischaracterizing the record, and failing to credit the vocational expert's ("VE") testimony that plaintiff could not work if he missed more than one day of work per month. ECF No. 14. The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on October 31, 2012, to which plaintiff filed a reply on November 20, 2012. ECF Nos. 16, 18.

The Court found the ALJ erred in rejecting plaintiff's testimony regarding the severity of mental health symptoms and further erred by failing to include the mental functioning impairments identified by Dr. Finkel in the hypothetical questions posed to the VE. ECF No. 19. Accordingly, judgment was issued in favor of plaintiff on July 16, 2013. Defendant now seeks to have the judgment be amended in favor of the Commissioner. ECF No. 21.

LEGAL STANDARDS

District courts may alter or amend its judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, reconsideration is an "extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources." Carroll v. Nakatani , 342 F.3d 934, 945 (9th Cir. 2003). The Ninth Circuit explained,

There are four grounds upon which a Rule 59(e) motion may be granted: 1) the motion is "necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment is based;" 2) the moving party presents "newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence;" 3) the motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice;" or 4) there is an "intervening change in controlling law."

Turner v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Co. , 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting McDowell v. Calderon , 197 F.3d 1253, 1254 n.1 (9th Cir. 1999)). A motion to amend judgment under Rule 59(e) "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker , 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008).

DISCUSSION

Defendant moves for relief under Rule 59(e) "to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment is based." According to defendant, the Court erred in finding that the ALJ failed to include plaintiff's limitations with regard to attention, concentration, pace and ability to attend a regular work schedule in her residual functional capacity ("RFC").[1] This finding, argues defendant, tainted the Court's conclusion that the ALJ's hypothetical question to the VE should have included these limitations.

A. The ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity

The Commissioner first argues that the Court erred by failing to explain how the ALJ's RFC finding was not supported by substantial evidence and ...


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