United States District Court, C.D. California
JANET M. B., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
CHARLES F. EICK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that Plaintiff's and Defendant's motions for
summary judgment are denied and this matter is remanded for
further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.
April 9, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking review of
the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits. On May
17, 2019, the parties filed a consent to proceed before a
United States Magistrate Judge. On September 27, 2019,
Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. On October 28,
2019, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The
Court has taken the motions under submission without oral
argument. See L.R. 7-15; “Order, ” filed
April 12, 2019.
AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
asserts disability since May 28, 2008, based largely on
allegedly extreme sensitivity to synthetic fumes and odors,
following workplace exposure to trichloroethylene
(“TCE”) (Administrative Record
(“A.R.”) 55-70, 334, 1033-57). The Court twice
previously has remanded this case for further administrative
proceedings. In the first remand order, the Court found
material ambiguities and inconsistencies in the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
first decision. See A.R. 1124-31 (Memorandum Opinion
and Order of Remand in [B.] v. Colvin, CV
13-5618-E); see also A.R. 1138 (Appeals
Council's subsequent remand order). In the second
remand order, the Court found that the medical opinions on
which the same ALJ purportedly relied in determining
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity were
inconsistent, and no medical opinion specifically endorsed
the particular environmental limitations the ALJ assessed.
See A.R. 1694-1708 (Memorandum Opinion and Order of
Remand in [B.] v. Colvin, CV 16-1130-E); see
also A.R. 1711 (Appeals Council's order remanding
for further proceedings before a new ALJ).
the most recent remand, a new ALJ held another hearing at
which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified, and the
ALJ reviewed additional evidence (i.e., medical
records from visits with Dr. Bernhoft postdating the
disability period at issue) (A.R. 1543-1634). In the third
administrative decision, the new ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled based, in part, on the ALJ's belief that
Plaintiff's alleged multiple chemical sensitivity
syndrome is not even a medically determinable impairment
(A.R. 1521-32). The ALJ found that Plaintiff: (1) has severe
“adjustment disorder, migraines, history of bilateral
ganglion cysts, lumbar strain, and asthma” (A.R. 1524);
(2) retains a residual functional capacity for light work
limited to detailed but not complex tasks, and avoiding
concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes or chemical
irritants (A.R. 1525); and (3) with this capacity, Plaintiff
could perform work as a marker, routing clerk or ticket
seller (A.R. 1531-32 (adopting vocational expert's
testimony at A.R. 1618-22)). All the testifying vocational
experts have opined that, if a person were precluded from all
exposure to fumes, dust, odors, gases, etc., there would be
no jobs the person could perform. See A.R. 72-73,
1070, 1622. The Appeals Council denied review (A.R. 1512-14).
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
Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir.
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
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999) (citations and quotations omitted).
reasons discussed below, yet another remand is appropriate.
The ALJ Did Not Violate the Law of the Case Doctrine
By Revisiting the Prior Step 2
the Court finds remand to be appropriate, the Court rejects
Plaintiff's argument regarding the law of the case
doctrine. The law of the case doctrine, which applies in the
social security context, sometimes prevents a tribunal from
considering an issue that has already been decided by the
same tribunal, or by a higher tribunal, in ...