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Delacruz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 19, 2019

Allison Valdez Delacruz, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.


          Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, United States District Court Judge.

         On February 1, 2018, plaintiff Allison Valdez Delacruz filed the instant action against defendant Nancy Berryhill, as Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking judicial review of defendant's finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act (“SSA”). (Dkt. No. 1.) Thereafter, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 34, 39.) In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff argued, in part, that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by finding that plaintiff did not meet Listing 1.04 on Step Three of the five-step framework for determining disability. (Dkt. No. 34 at 3-7.)

         On June 27, 2019, the Court entered an order granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denying defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment, and remanding the action to the ALJ for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 42 (“Order”).) In so holding, the Court analyzed the administrative record and found that the ALJ's Step Three determination was no more than a few sentences long and that the decision overall “contain[ed] few references to medical evidence regarding the Listing 1.04 criteria.” (Id. at 12.) The Court also considered, but expressly declined, taking a position on whether plaintiff had satisfied Step Three. (Id. at 15.) Rather, the Court held remand was warranted to allow the ALJ “to explain his analysis as to Step Three and if necessary, reevaluate his determinations as to the subsequent steps.” (Id. at 16.)

         Delacruz now brings a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), arguing that the Court erred in remanding the case to the ALJ rather than awarding payment of benefits. (Dkt. No. 44.) Specifically, Delacruz repeats her arguments regarding Step Three, claiming that she has met the criteria for Listing 1.04, and accordingly, “there are no outstanding issues that must be resolved before a determination of disability can be made” in her favor. (Id. at 9.)[1]

         “In general, there are four basic grounds upon which a Rule 59(e) motion may be granted: (1) if such motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment rests; (2) if such motion is necessary to present newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) if such motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice; or (4) if the amendment is justified by an intervening change in controlling law.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634 F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011). Although a Rule 59(e) motion permits a district court to alter or amend a judgment, it “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008) (quoting 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1, pp. 127-128 (2d ed. 1995)). The Ninth Circuit has noted that relief from judgment under Rule 59(e) is “extraordinary” and “should be used sparingly.” McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 n.1 (9th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted); Weeks v. Bayer, 246 F.3d 1231, 1236 (9th Cir. 2001) (noting that a moving party must overcome a “high hurdle” to obtain relief under Rule 59(e) since only “highly unusual circumstances” justify its application).

         Plaintiff's briefs invoke the first and second grounds for Rule 59(e) relief set forth in Herron. The Court considers each in turn.

         As to the first ground, to succeed on a theory that the court manifestly erred, a moving party “must set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court to reverse its prior decision.” Zeitler v. Berryhill, No. 5:16-CV-00862-EJD, 2017 WL 6017853, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 5, 2017) (quoting Arteaga v. Asset Acceptance, LLC, 733 F.Supp.2d 1218, 1236 (E.D. Cal. 2010)). Here, plaintiff contends that relief from judgment is necessary “to correct manifest errors of law because the relevant facts in the record meet[] all three prongs of the Harman [v. Apfel, 211 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000)] criteria upon which this Court's judgment was based.” (Dkt. No. 46 (“Reply”) at 4.) Plaintiff's argument, however, does not persuade. The Court's prior order cited Harman for the standard governing remand for an award of benefits. (Order at 15.) Given that the ALJ did not adequately explain his Step Three determination and numerous outstanding issues remained, the Court found that it was appropriate to remand for further administrative proceedings rather than an award of benefits. (Id. at 15-16.) Plaintiff has not presented any “strongly convincing” facts or law to warrant a different result, instead she generally raises the same arguments she presented on summary judgment as to Step Three, which the Court fully considered.[2] “Mere doubts or disagreement about the wisdom of a prior decision, ” however, “[are] insufficient to warrant granting a Rule 59(e) motion.” Zeitler, 2017 WL 6017853, at *1 (quoting Garcia v. Biter, 195 F.Supp.3d 1131, 1133 (E.D. Cal. 2016)) (internal quotation marks omitted).[3] Accordingly, plaintiff is not entitled to relief based on the ground of a “manifest error of law.”

         With respect to the second ground for relief under Herron, plaintiff's reply brief purports to present “previously unavailable evidence, ” namely, a certification from Dr. Steven Schumann dated September 26, 2017, which plaintiff claims shows that she “was totally and permanently disabled because her medically determinable physical impairment prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity.” (Reply at 3, Ex. A.) This “evidence” does not justify relief from judgment, however, because the certification (i) is consistent with Dr. Schumann's previous findings, which were already part of the administrative record and considered by the Court (see Order at 3-4), and (ii) does not, by itself, establish that plaintiff has satisfied the Listing 1.04 criteria such that no further administrative proceedings are necessary.

         In sum, the Court finds that this is not an “extraordinary” circumstance that warrants relief from judgment, and accordingly, plaintiffs motion to alter or amend judgment is Denied.

         This Order terminates Docket Number 44.

         It Is So Ordered.



[1] Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b) and Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds the motion appropriate for decision ...

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