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Vaile v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Johnny Robert Vaile (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 11, 12] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. 19 (“Pltf.'s Br.”), Dkt. 28 (“Def.'s Br.”), and Dkt. 30 (Pltf.'s Reply”).] The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings.


         On February 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging that he became disabled as of April 19, 2006. [Dkt. 15, Administrative Record (“AR”) 34.] The Commissioner denied his initial claim for benefits and then denied his claim upon reconsideration. [AR 73-106; 107-138; 139-143; 152-156.] On October 29, 2013, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Nancy M. Stewart. [AR 48-72.] On February 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's request for benefits. [AR 29-47.] Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which denied review on January 15, 2016. [AR 1-7.]

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1) 416.920(b)-(g)(1). At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 19, 2006, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2010, his date last insured. [AR 34.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the spine; mood disorder; and mild obesity. [AR 34 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).] Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. [AR 34-35 (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).]

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[L]ight work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(c) except the claimant can occasionally can [sic] lift and/or carry 20 pounds and 10 [pounds] frequently; the claimant can push and/or pull within these weight limits but on an occasionally [sic] basis as to the lower extremities; the claimant can stand and/or walk 4 hours in an 8-hour workday with no prolonged walking greater than 30 minutes at a time; the claimant can sit for 6 hours of an 8-hour workday with the ability to stand and/or stretch for one minute at the end of each hour, not to exceed 10% of the day; the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, bend, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he is precluded from working on hazards such as working at unprotected heights, operating dangerous or fast machinery, or driving commercial vehicles; the claimant is limited to unskilled, simple, routine, and repetitive tasks the claimant can have occasional public contact and occasional intermittent contact with co-workers and supervisors.

[AR 36.] Applying this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work, but determined that based on his age (41 years old), limited education, and ability to communicate in English, he could perform representative occupations such as production solderer (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) 813.684-022), electronics worker (DOT 726.687-010), and sewing machine operator (DOT 786.682-026) and, thus, is not disabled. [AR 41-42.]


         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. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 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.

         Where 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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1163 (9th Cir. 2012) (“[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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. 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”).


         A. The New Medical Evidence Submitted To The Appeals Council Renders the ALJ's Decision ...

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