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Rafols v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 7, 2017

RODNEY DALE RAFOLS, 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 4, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on September 21, 2016. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on April 25, 2017. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on May 25, 2017. The Court has taken the motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed August 5, 2016. /// ///

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff asserted disability based on several alleged impairments (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 40-51, 54-62, 71-75, 78-81, 214-17, 225). Plaintiff testified to allegedly disabling functional restrictions (A.R. 49-51, 61-62, 72-81).

         Following a previous administrative remand, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) examined the medical record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (A.R. 17-310, 314-618). The ALJ found Plaintiff's testimony “not entirely credible” (A.R. 26). According to the ALJ, “[e]xaggeration of symptoms is repeatedly suggested throughout the medical record. . . .” (A.R. 27). The ALJ also observed that Dr. Alexander White, a non-treating, non-examining physician, had believed that all of Plaintiff's alleged symptoms were “significantly out of proportion to identifiable physical processes” (A.R. 27, 443).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with certain restrictions (A.R. 23).[1] This RFC is largely consistent with the reports and opinions of the physicians of record (A.R. 327-30, 333-50, 362-66, 378-79, 403, 441-53, 486, 539, 545-50). The ALJ discussed these reports and opinions in considerable detail, including the report and opinion of Dr. White (A.R. 24-27). The ALJ declined to incorporate into the RFC every aspect of Dr. White's opinion, omitting the aspect that would have restricted Plaintiff to work not requiring more than occasional reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling with the left hand (A.R. 23, 448). When asked to identify in writing “the particular medical or clinical findings” supporting an alleged restriction to occasional use of the left hand, Dr. White wrote only “giving Pt. the benefit of doubt of injury to the L. hand” (A.R. 448).

         The vocational expert testified that a person having the RFC assessed by the ALJ could perform certain jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy (A.R. 83-84). In reliance on this testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 28-29). The Appeals Council considered additional evidence but denied review (A.R. 1-5, 311-13, 619-907).

         Plaintiff now argues a single alleged administrative error. According to Plaintiff, the ALJ erred by assertedly failing to state “specific and legitimate reasons” for not incorporating into the RFC Dr. White's opinion restricting Plaintiff to occasional use of the left hand.

         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 ...


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