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Ana M. M. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 10, 2019

ANA M. M., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES F. EICK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on March 27, 2019, 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 November 4, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. On December 2, 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 March 29, 2019.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff asserted disability since December 1, 2011, based primarily on alleged depression and anxiety (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 276-84, 310). After the Administration found Plaintiff not disabled, she filed a prior action in this Court. See [M.] v. Colvin, ED CV 16-2614-E. This prior action resulted in a stipulated remand for further administrative proceedings (A.R. 32-45, 1430-56). These further proceedings sought to resolve issues relating to: (1) new mental heath treatment notes; (2) whether Plaintiff's mental impairments met or equaled a listed impairment; (3) further evaluation of an examining psychologist's opinion; and (4) potential conflicts between the testimony of a vocational expert and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (id.).

         On remand, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) reviewed the updated record, held another evidentiary hearing, and issued a partially favorable decision (A.R. 1358-1400). The ALJ found Plaintiff disabled from December 1, 2011 through October 27, 2016, due to severe depression and personality disorder (A.R. 1358-76). However, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff's condition materially improved as of October 28, 2016, such that Plaintiff was not disabled from October 28, 2016 through the date of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1370-76 (adopting the testimony of the medical expert and the testimony of the vocational expert at A.R. 1387-96)).

         At the prior administrative hearings, Plaintiff had testified vaguely that she felt “pain in my body” “from trying to physically do something” (A.R. 54, 59-60, 90, 1470-71). According to Plaintiff, her pain was in “my lower back and my head and like just my entire body” (A.R. 60). Plaintiff did not testify at the most recent administrative hearing, although Plaintiff was personally present at the hearing (A.R. 1384-1400). At the close of the most recent hearing, Plaintiff's counsel requested a consultative physical examination to evaluate alleged fibromyalgia (A.R. 1397). The ALJ denied the request, stating that fibromyalgia was “not specified in the records enough that it's going to cause any [] limitations” (A.R. 1398). The ALJ added that Plaintiff's counsel could send Plaintiff out for an examination at Plaintiff's expense, if counsel believed an examination was necessary (A.R. 1398). Evidently, no such examination occurred.

         In finding Plaintiff not disabled beginning October 28, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's newly-alleged medically determinable impairment of fibromyalgia was non-severe (i.e., the impairment does not significantly limit Plaintiff's ability to perform work activities). The ALJ reasoned:

the record suggests mild or no findings related to fibromyalgia, such as issues with heightened pain, pressure, memory problems, numbness, bladder problems, psychological stress, fatigue, sleep disturbance, tactile pressure, nerve pain, muscle twitching or palpitations. Furthermore, although the [] record mentions fibromyalgia, it is not diagnosed nor documented as required by rheumatology society [sic].

(A.R. 1364). Plaintiff now contends that the ALJ erred: (1) in determining Plaintiff's alleged fibromyalgia to be non-severe; and (2) in failing expressly to discuss Plaintiff's alleged “chronic pain” in the assessment of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (Plaintiff's Motion, pp. 7-12).

         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). 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. 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 ...

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