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Campbell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 24, 2017

LAUREN C. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GAIL J. STANDISH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Lauren C. Campbell appeals from the Commissioner's denial of Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff alleges disability since February 12, 2011, based on symptoms stemming from arthritis in her neck, shoulder, and hip; a herniated disc in her neck; Irritable Bowl Syndrome (“IBS”); depression and anxiety. [Dkt. 24 (“Pltf.'s Mem.”).] Her application for benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on July 9, 2014 [Dkt. 15, Administrative Record (“AR”) 20.], and subsequently denied benefits. [AR 25.] Plaintiff appealed to the District Court, and both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge. [Dkts. 11, 12.]

Plaintiff presents three issues for review:
1. Whether the ALJ erred in her analysis of the medical evidence. Here, Plaintiff primarily challenges whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's failure at step two of the five-step inquiry to find that certain of Plaintiff's alleged ailments amount to legally severe impairments, and, relatedly, whether the ALJ's error, if any, is harmless;
2. Whether the ALJ had specific, legitimate reasons to reject the assessment of treating physician Dr. Adrienne Beck regarding Plaintiff's diagnosed Ehlers Danlos syndrome, in assessing Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”); and
3. Whether the ALJ had a clear and convincing reason supported by substantial evidence for finding Plaintiff's subjective complaints to be less than fully credible.

[Pltf.'s Mem., passim.]

         In order to avoid repetition and for additional reasons, the Court addresses these issues in a different order than did the parties. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings.

         GOVERNING STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner 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). 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) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074.

         Even if Plaintiff shows that the ALJ committed legal error, “[r]eversal on account of error is not automatic, but requires a determination of prejudice.” Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir. 2012). “[T]he burden of showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's determination.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal citation omitted). “ALJ errors in social security cases are harmless if they are ‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination[.]'” Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1173 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal citation omitted).

         In this case, the Court finds that any error by the ALJ in not considering certain of Plaintiff's medical conditions to be legally severe, and the related issue of whether Plaintiff's impairments met or equaled the requirements of a listing, is harmless. However, the ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints of debilitating pain, thus requiring remand. The Court declines to address the remaining issue raised by Plaintiff - whether the ALJ properly discounted the functional assessment of Plaintiff's treating physician - but notes that, given that the record is now complete ...


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