United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER RE: MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge.
Jin Liu appealed the denial of his application for Social
Security Benefits by commencing an action in this Court.
See Compl., Dkt. No. 1. The Court granted in part
and denied in part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, finding the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) had erred in discounting the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Leyba. See
Order at 13-16, Dkt. No. 25. The Court remanded the action
because the “case would benefit from further
administrative proceedings to give the ALJ the opportunity to
develop the record by obtaining additional information from
Dr. Leyba or Dr. Steh, or requiring Plaintiff to undergo a
mental health examination with an [Social Security
Administration (“SSA”)] consultant.”
Id. at 16; see also id. at 19 (“The
case is remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the ALJ
shall obtain additional information from Dr. Leyba and/or Dr.
Steh, and may require Plaintiff to undergo a mental health
now moves to alter or amend the Court's judgment pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), arguing the Court
erred by failing to apply the credit as true doctrine and
remanding the case instead of ordering payment of benefits.
See Mot. Defendant filed an Opposition (Dkt. No.
30); Plaintiff did not file a reply.
reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART
Plaintiff's Motion. It amends its judgment to remove its
direction requiring the ALJ to obtain additional information
from Dr. Leyba and/or Steh, and the reference to obtaining a
mental health examination from an SSA consultant; however, it
does not otherwise amend its prior decision to remand the
action for further administrative proceedings.
59(e) motion may be granted on four grounds: “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 N. Santa Fe R.R. Co., 338 F.3d
1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). Plaintiff invokes the first and third
grounds. See Mot. at 1.
when the SSA does not determine a claimant's application
properly, “the proper course, except in rare
circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional
investigation or explanation.” Benecke v.
Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 595 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations
omitted). In the Ninth Circuit, these rare circumstances
include when improperly rejected evidence, such as a
claimant's testimony or the opinion of a treating
physician, “should be credited and an immediate award
of benefits directed.” Harman v. Apfel, 211
F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Smolen v.
Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292 (9th Cir. 1996)). This
“credit-as-true doctrine” incentivizes careful
analysis during an ALJ's first review of the credibility
of claimants' testimony and promotes efficient and timely
final decisions for claimants, many of whom
“‘suffer from painful and debilitating
conditions, as well as severe economic hardship.'”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1019-20 (9th Cir.
2014) (quoting Varney v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 859 F.2d 1396, 1398-99 (9th Cir. 1988)).
“‘[I]f grounds for [concluding that a claimant is
not disabled] exist, it is both reasonable and desirable to
require the ALJ to articulate them in the original
decision.'” Id. at 1020 (quoting
Varney, 859 F.2d at 1399) (alterations in original).
The Ninth Circuit recently reaffirmed the validity of the
doctrine in this Circuit, and noted that its own
“precedent and the objectives of the credit-as-true
rule foreclose the argument that a remand for the purpose of
allowing the ALJ to have a mulligan qualifies as a remand for
a ‘useful purpose' under the first part of
credit-as-true analysis.” Garrison, 759 F.3d
applying the “credit-as-true” doctrine, district
courts in the Ninth Circuit
should credit evidence that was rejected during the
administrative process and remand for an immediate award of
benefits if (1) the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient
reasons for rejecting the evidence; (2) there are no
outstanding issues that must be resolved before a
determination of disability can be made; and (3) it is clear
from the record that the ALJ would be required to find the
claimant disabled were such evidence credited.
Benecke, 379 F.3d at 593. The record has not been
fully developed if “there is a need to resolve conflict
and ambiguities, or the presentation of further evidence may
well prove enlightening in light of the passage of
time.” Treichler v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 1090,
1101 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks, citations,
and modifications omitted). In Treichler, the Ninth
Circuit clarified that, in the second step, the court
assesses “whether there are outstanding issues
requiring resolution before” crediting the
claimant's testimony as true. Id. at 1105-06.
Legal error by an ALJ, in and of itself, does not require a
court to accept the claimant's testimony as true.
Id. at 1106. Rather, “[w]here there is
conflicting evidence, and not all essential factual issues
have been resolved, a remand for an award of benefits is
inappropriate.” Id. at 1101.
Furthermore, even when the three Benecke elements
are satisfied, courts must remand cases for further
proceedings when “an evaluation of the record as a
whole creates serious doubt that a claimant is, in fact,
disabled.” Garrison, 750 F.3d at 1020; see
also Dominguez v. Colvin, 808 F.3d 403, 407-08 (9th Cir.
2015), as amended (Feb. 5, 2016) (“[T]he
district court must consider the testimony or opinion that
the ALJ improperly rejected, in the context of the otherwise
undisputed record, and determine whether the ALJ would
necessarily have to conclude that the claimant were disabled
if that testimony or opinion were deemed true. If so, the
district court may exercise its discretion to remand the case
for an award of benefits. [Cite.] A district court is
generally not required to exercise such discretion,
undersigned granted Plaintiffs Motion in part, because the
reasons the ALJ articulated for rejecting Dr. Leyba's