United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND
REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS RE: DKT. NO. 19
NATHANAEL M. COUSINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
M.G. appeals from Social Security Commissioner Andrew M.
Saul'sdenial of her application under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1391
et seq. See Dkt. No. 19. Because the ALJ erred by
discounting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating
physicians and Plaintiff submitted additional relevant
evidence that should have been considered, the Court reverses
the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this case for
December 2, 2015, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits alleging disability beginning July 2, 2012.
See Dkt. No. 10 (“AR”) at 36, 380. She
claimed that she could not work because of sacral
radiculopathy, degenerative disc disease, sciatica,
perineural cyst, and bilateral sacroiliac joint fusion.
See Id. at 395.
October 5, 2017, an ALJ held a hearing (see Id. at
53-83) and issued her decision on February 1, 2018 (see
Id. at 36-48). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 2, 2012,
and suffered severe impairments. Id. at 38. Those
impairments, however, did not meet the severity of any
impairments listed in Social Security regulations.
Id. at 39. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity to performed limited, light
work. Id. at 39-40. And, taking Plaintiff's
vocational background into account, the ALJ found that she
could perform past relevant work as a psychiatrist or work in
other occupations, such as a case manager. Id. at
46-47. The ALJ thus concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Id. at 47.
the ALJ issued her decision, Plaintiff appealed to the
Appeals Council (see Id. at 1-4) and submitted
additional evidence in support (see Id. at 15-27,
84-273). The Appeals Council found that Plaintiff's
newly-filed evidence did not show a reasonable probability
that it would change the outcome of her application and
denied her request. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.
See Dkt. Nos, 1, 19.
argues that the Commissioner's decision should be
reversed because (1) the Appeals Council failed to consider
additional evidence; and (2) the ALJ erred by giving her
treating physicians' opinions little weight. See
Dkt. No. 19-1 at 3.
appeal to the Appeals Council, Plaintiff submitted medical
records and reports from her medical providers. See
AR at 84-273. Those records ranged in date from January 2014
to April 28, 2018. Id. Defendants argue that the
Appeals Council properly declined to consider that evidence
because it was duplicative, and Plaintiff failed to show good
cause for her late disclosure. See Dkt. No. 24 at
Court disagrees. Although some of the medical records could
have been produced earlier, Plaintiff was represented at her
hearing by a different attorney who, as noted by the ALJ, had
a “recurring pattern” of failing to timely submit
relevant records. See AR at 55, 452. After the
ALJ's decision, Plaintiff obtained new counsel who
explained that the previous attorney failed to submit medical
records for the period between December 2016 and October
2017. Id. at 452. Plaintiff's counsel submitted
those records in support of her appeal to the Appeals
Council. Id. at 84-273, 452.
it is unclear whether attorney neglect qualifies as
“good cause” (see Burton v. Heckler, 724
F.2d 1415, 1417-18 (9th Cir. 1984) (“The good cause
requirement often is liberally applied, where . . . there is
no indication that a remand for consideration of new evidence
will result in prejudice to the Secretary.”); but
see Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 463 (9th Cir.
2001) (“To demonstrate good cause, the claimant must
demonstrate that the new evidence was unavailable
earlier.”)), the Appeals Council did not cite lack of
good cause as the reason for declining to consider the
evidence. See AR at 2. Instead, it stated that the
evidence “[did] not show a reasonable probability that
it would change the outcome of the decision.”
Id. But the ALJ specifically noted that no medical
records after December 2016 were submitted for her review.
See Id. at 42. The ALJ also found that
Plaintiff's condition had improved by the end of 2016.
See, e.g., id. at 44. Plaintiff's
late-submitted medical records show, however, that she
continued to receive significant treatment for her pain
throughout 2017 and 2018. Moreover, one month before her
hearing, Plaintiff underwent significant surgery to remove
her spinal stimulator due to an infection. See Id.
at 63. She testified that the stimulator had been “very
helpful” and “better than any medicine” for
managing her pain. Id. at 65, 66. The records before
the ALJ, however, contained no information regarding
Plaintiff's condition after that surgery.
the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinions of Dr.
Hsieh. An ALJ must provide “clear and convincing
reasons that are supported by substantial evidence” to
reject uncontradicted opinions of a treating or examining
doctor. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d
1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bayliss v.
Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005)).
Contradicted opinions of a treating or examining doctor may
be rejected by “specific and legitimate reasons that
are supported by substantial evidence.” Id.
Here, the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiffs medical records
in context and instead isolated evidence of improvement.
See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)
(“[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record
as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.”). For example, the ALJ
noted that Plaintiffs back pain appeared to improve after
receiving injections. See AR at 44. But the
improvements appear short-lived (see, e.g. Id. at
135, 1344-53) and are often accompanied by reports of other
instances of pain or other symptoms like fecal incontinence
(see, e.g., Id. at 1321). Moreover, the
late-submitted evidence further shows that Plaintiffs pain
continues to be an issue. See Id. at 154.
other hand, the ALJ did not err in giving little weight to
Dr. Chen's opinion. Although the ALJ's reasoning was
brief, Dr. Chen's opinion was written in 2013 and did not
consider much of the medical record available to the ALJ.