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Georgopoulos v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 14, 2016

ALEXIS GEORGOPOULOS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

          CHARLES F. EICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s motions for summary judgment are denied, and this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.

         PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed a complaint on November 4, 2015, seeking review of the Commissioner’s denial of benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on December 7, 2015. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on April 8, 2016. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on July 8, 2016. The Court has taken the motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed November 5, 2015.

         BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         Plaintiff, a former cashier, alleges disability beginning February 11, 2007 (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 43, 50, 122-29, 147). The decision of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) summarizes and evaluates the evidence, including the medical opinion evidence (A.R. 9-17). The decision states that Dr. Robert Moore, a consultative examining physician, opined that Plaintiff “had the ability to . . . stand and walk for a total of two hours out of an 8hour workday” (A.R. 15). The ALJ ultimately found that Plaintiff retains the ability to perform a narrowed range of light work, including the ability to “stand/walk for a total of 6 hours in an 8hour workday” (A.R. 12). The ALJ did not explain why he declined to adopt a restriction to two hours of standing and walking in an 8-hour workday.

         A vocational expert testified that a person retaining the capacity the ALJ found to exist could perform Plaintiff’s past relevant work as generally performed (A.R. 43-44). The ALJ relied on this testimony in finding Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 16). The Appeals Council denied review (A.R. 1-3).

         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 correct 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); see also Brewes v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). 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); see also Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006).

If the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. But the Commissioner’s decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [administrative] conclusion.

Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citations and quotations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p provides: “[i]f the RFC [residual functional capacity] assessment conflicts with an opinion from a medical source, the adjudicator must explain why the opinion was not adopted.”[1] The ALJ’s decision contains no specific explanation why the ALJ failed to adopt into “the RFC assessment” the standing/walking opinion the ALJ imputed to Dr. Moore.[2] The ALJ thereby erred. See id.

         In disputing this conclusion, Defendant argues that Dr. Moore did not unambiguously limit Plaintiff to only two hours of standing and walking. Dr. Moore’s report does appear ambiguous on the subject of Plaintiff’s ability to walk with and without a cane (A.R. 247, 251). However, it was the prerogative of the ALJ to resolve any possible ambiguities in the evidence. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 509 (9th Cir. 2001). And the ALJ resolved the possible ambiguities in Dr. Moore’s report by expressly imputing to Dr. ...


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