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Henderson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 2, 2017

MARY P. HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES F. EICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed a complaint on August 23, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on October 6, 2016. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on February 17, 2017. Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on April 19, 2017. The Court has taken the motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed August 25, 2016. /// ///

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who stopped working in 2007, asserted disability since February 10, 2013, due to “stage unknown lymphoma cancer” (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 150, 382, 384, 396).[1] An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff has severe “hypertension; sarcoidosis; status post lobectomy in remote past; status post left shoulder surgery; and asthma” (A.R. 18 (adopting medical expert testimony at A.R. 383)). However, the ALJ also found Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform work as a ticket taker and small parts assembler, and therefore is not disabled (A.R. 19-23 (adopting vocational expert testimony at A.R. 397-98)). In making this finding, the ALJ deemed Plaintiff “not fully credible” (A.R. 21). The Appeals Council considered additional evidence but denied review (A.R. 5-9).

         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 of Social Sec. Admin., 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 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 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”).

         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.

         The ALJ Stated Legally Sufficient Reasons for Finding Not Fully Credible Plaintiff's Assertions Regarding Her Alleged Subjective Symptoms and Limitations.

         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). Where, as here, the ALJ finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to cause some degree of the alleged symptoms of which the claimant subjectively complains, any discounting of the claimant's complaints must be supported by specific, cogent findings. See Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1234 (9th Cir. 2010); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995); 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 where there is no evidence of malingering).[3] An ALJ's credibility findings “must be sufficiently specific to allow a reviewing court to conclude the ALJ rejected the claimant's testimony on permissible grounds and did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony.” See Moisa v. Barnhart, 367 F.3d 882, 885 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotations ...


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