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Stephens v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 3, 2017

SHEILA JEANETTE STEPHENS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sheila Jeanette Stephens protectively filed her application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on June 6, 2012. After denial on initial review and on reconsideration, a video hearing took place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on October 14, 2014, at which Plaintiff testified on her own behalf. In a decision dated January 9, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act for the period beginning January 3, 2012 through the date of the decision. The Appeals Council declined to set aside the ALJ's unfavorable decision in a notice dated April 1, 2016. Plaintiff filed a Complaint herein on April 21, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for benefits.

         In accordance with the Court's Order Re: Procedures in Social Security Appeal, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in support of the complaint on October 17, 2016 (“Pl. Mem.”) and the Commissioner filed a memorandum in support of her answer on November 17, 2016 (“Def. Mem.”). Plaintiff did not file a reply. This matter now is ready for decision.[1]

         II.

         DISPUTED ISSUE

         As reflected in the parties' memoranda, the disputed issue is whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion of the medical expert Dr. Alpern and fully developed the record.

         III.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Error in a social security determination is subject to harmless error analysis. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir. 2012). Reversal “is not automatic, but requires a determination of prejudice.” Id. A reviewing federal court must consider case-specific factors, including “an estimation of the likelihood that the result would have been different, as well as the impact of the error on the public perception of such proceedings.” Id. (footnote and citation omitted).

         IV.

         FIVE-STEP ...


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