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Rodriguez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 20, 2017

LUZ I. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting 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 August 5, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on January 21, 2017. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on January 27, 2017. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on March 27, 2017. The Court has taken the motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed August 9, 2016.

         BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         Plaintiff asserts disability since early April of 2010, based on alleged physical and mental impairments (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 179-82, 195-96). An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) reviewed the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (A.R. 28-38, 42-66). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe physical impairments which limit her to the following residual functional capacity:

[Plaintiff can] perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a)[1] except that [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; never [climb] ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently perform reaching, fingering, and handling including overhead reaching; and avoid concentrated exposure to cold and vibration; and avoid moderate exposure to industrial hazards.

         (A.R. 32). In finding Plaintiff retains this capacity, the ALJ gave little or no weight to the contrary opinions of the treating and examining physicians of record (A.R. 33-35). The ALJ did not mention the opinions of the non-examining state agency physicians (A.R. 33-35).

         The vocational expert testified that a person with the residual functional capacity defined by the ALJ could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work (A.R. 53-54). The ALJ relied on this testimony in finding Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 36). The Appeals Council considered additional evidence but denied review (A.R. 1-5; see also A.R. 1830-34 (new opinion evidence post-dating the ALJ's adverse decision)).

         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).

         Where, as here, the Appeals Council considered additional evidence but denied review, the additional evidence becomes part of the record for purposes of the Court's analysis. See Brewes v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d at 1163 (“[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 ...


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