United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK United States Magistrate Judge.
G. (“Plaintiff”) appeals from Social Security
Commissioner's final decision rejecting his application
for Social Security disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is
remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
was found disabled beginning on March 21, 2010. See
Administrative Record (“AR”) 159. The Social
Security Administration reviewed whether Plaintiff continued
to be disabled and determined that, as of August 2014,
Plaintiff was no longer disabled. See AR 170.
Plaintiff sought review of this decision from an ALJ. After a
hearing in February 2018, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder
without psychotic features; bipolar disorder; and unspecified
anxiety disorder. See AR 12. The ALJ concluded
Plaintiff had shown medical improvement as of August 1, 2014.
See AR 14. The ALJ also concluded that Plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met
or medically equaled one of the listed impairments.
See AR 12-14. The ALJ then determined that the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) required no exertional limitations but
Plaintiff was limited to unskilled work, could not do
high-quota, production-rate pace work, could only
occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors and
could have no interaction with the public, and could only
have occasional changes in work setting. See AR 15.
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled because
although he could not return to his past work, there was work
available in the national economy which he could do despite
his limitations. See AR 22-23. This action followed.
See Dkt. 1.
parties dispute whether the ALJ properly: (1) determined
Plaintiff had medical improvement; (2) gave little weight to
the opinion of Dr. Daniel Padua III; and (3) considered
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. See
Dkt. 28, Joint Submission (“JS”) at
Because the Court finds that the ALJ committed legal error
when he determined Plaintiff showed medical improvement, it
does not consider whether the ALJ properly gave little weight
to Dr. Padua's opinion or properly considered
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.
The ALJ addressed medical improvement in a single paragraph:
The medical evidence supports a finding that, by August 1,
2014, there had been a decrease in medical severity of the
impairments present at the time of the CPD. The impartial
medical expert, the State agency psychiatric consultants, and
the psychiatric consultative examiner all unanimously opined
the claimant does not have disabling mental health
impairments after August 1, 2014. (Hearing Testimony; 3F; 4F;
5F; 8F; 9F; 18F). The medical records indicate the
claimant's treatment was fairly helpful in managing his
symptoms. (12F; 13F). Additionally, objective mental status
examinations do not support  a more limiting residual
functional capacity than that found as of August 1, 2014.
(6F/5; 7F/5; l0F/7, 8, 9, 11; 13F/4-5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18,
20, 21, 22-23, 24, 25-26).
AR 14. None of the evidence cited by the ALJ-indeed none of
the medical evidence in the record-was considered in the
prior determination; all the record evidence is dated after
that 2010 determination. See AR 28-29. The earliest
record is dated May 11, 2013. See AR 28.
regulations require the ALJ to compare the prior and current
medical evidence. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(7) (“For purposes of determining whether
medical improvement has occurred, we will compare the current
medical severity of that impairment(s) which was present at
the time of the most recent favorable medical decision that
you were disabled or continued to be disabled to the medical
severity of that impairment(s) at that time.”). Under
similar circumstances, at least one judge in this district
has held that “it is error for an ALJ to neither
examine nor include in the administrative record evidence
from the time a claimant was originally found
disabled.” Newmiller v. Colvin, No. 15-0139,
2016 WL 3034670, at *3 (CD. Cal. May 27, 2016) (collecting
cases). The Court agrees. Moreover, it is the ALJ's
specific and affirmative duty to compare the prior medical
evidence to the current medical findings. See id at
*4. Contrary to the Commissioner's arguments, that duty
cannot be discharged by relying on a Disability Hearing
Officer's summary, as the ALJ did here. See id;
see also Marcelin v. Berryhill, No. 16-14075, 2017
WL 3981155, at *5 (E.D. La. Aug. 15, 2017) (“[A]n ALJ
is not allowed to rely solely on a DHO's summary of the
medical evidence that was extant at the time of a prior
finding of disability in making his medical-improvement
comparing the current findings to the prior medical evidence,
the ALJ erred. ...