Kamillo Geneva Brown v. Carolyn W. Colvin

Filing 19

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND by Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings. (mz)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 10 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA-WESTERN DIVISION 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 KAMILLO GENEVA BROWN, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ) NANCY A. BERRYHILL,1 ) Acting Commissioner of the ) Social Security Administration,) ) Defendant. ) ) Case No. CV 16-09593-AS MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND 19 20 Pursuant to Sentence 4 of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED 21 that this matter be remanded for further administrative action 22 consistent with this Opinion. 23 PROCEEDINGS 24 25 On December 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of 26 27 28 the denial 1 of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and is substituted in for Acting Commissioner Caroyln W. Colvin in this case. See 42 U.S.C. § 205(g). 1 (Docket Entry No. 1). The parties have consented to proceed before the 2 undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 12-13). 3 On June 15, 2017, Defendant 4 Administrative Record (“AR”). filed an Answer along (Docket Entry Nos. 16-17). with the The parties 5 filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) on September 12, 2017, setting 6 forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff’s claims. (Docket 7 Entry No. 18). 8 9 The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral 10 argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15; “Order Re: Procedures in Social 11 Security Appeal,” filed January 3, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 8). 12 13 BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION 14 15 On September 20, 2013, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a call 16 taker, a caretaker, and a stock clerk (see AR 39-41, 58, 153-56), filed 17 an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging an inability 18 to work because of a disabling condition since May 7, 2013. (See AR 11519 20). On May 26, 2015, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Elizabeth 20 R. Lishner, heard testimony from Plaintiff (represented by counsel) and 21 vocational expert Ronald Hatakeyayma. (See AR 38-67). On June 18, 22 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff’s application. 23 AR 25-32). (See After determining that Plaintiff had severe impairments –- 24 depression and anxiety (AR 27) –- but did not have an impairment or 25 combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of 26 one of the Listed Impairments (AR 27-28), the ALJ found that Plaintiff 27 28 2 1 had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)2 to perform a full range of 2 work at all exertional levels with the following limitations: no 3 climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no exposure to heights or heavy 4 machinery; no fast-paced work; and no team work. (AR 28-31). The ALJ 5 then determined that Plaintiff was not able to perform any past relevant 6 work (AR 31), but that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in 7 significant numbers in the national economy, and was therefore not 8 disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 31-32). 9 10 Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s 11 decision. (See AR 15-19). The request was denied on November 23, 2016. 12 (See AR 1-5). The ALJ’s decision then became the final decision of the 13 Commissioner, allowing this Court to review the decision. See 42 U.S.C. 14 §§ 405(g), 1383(c). 15 16 PLAINTIFF’S CONTENTIONS 17 18 Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in rejecting the State Agency 19 physician’s opinion that Plaintiff has a moderate limitation in her 20 ability to complete a normal workday and workweek. (See Joint Stip. at 21 4-6, 8). 22 // 23 // 24 // 25 26 27 28 2 A Residual Functional Capacity is what a claimant can still do despite existing exertional and nonexertional limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). 3 1 DISCUSSION 2 3 After consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that 4 Plaintiff’s sole claim of error warrants a remand for further 5 consideration. 6 7 A. 8 The ALJ Did Not Properly Reject the State Agency Physician’s Opinion Regarding Plaintiff’s Ability to Complete a Normal Workday and Workweek 9 10 Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to provide any reasons for 11 rejecting the opinion of the State Agency physician, Dr. Paula Lynch, 12 concerning Plaintiff’s ability to complete a normal workday and 13 workweek. (See Joint Stip. at 4-6, 8). Defendant asserts that the ALJ 14 properly gave little weight to the State Agency physician’s opinion. 15 (See Joint Stip. at 6-8). 16 17 An ALJ must take into account all medical opinions of record. 18 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(b). 19 considered to be 20 All evidence from non-examining sources is opinion evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e). 20 “Generally, a treating physician’s opinion carries more weight than an 21 examining physician’s, and an examining physician’s opinion carries more 22 weight than a reviewing physician’s.” Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 23 1195, 1202 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 24 (9th Cir. 1995). 25 26 On November 6, 2013, Paula Lynch, M.D., a State Agency physician, 27 completed a Disability Determination Explanation report. (See AR 69- 28 78). Dr. Lynch reviewed the following evidence: a Third Party Function 4 1 Report dated November 5, 2013, a Pain Form dated October 28, 2013, an 2 Adult Function Report dated October 28, 2013, a Work History Report 3 dated October 28, 2013, Kaiser Behavioral Health Services Records, and 4 other medical records. (AR 70-73). Dr. Lynch opined that Plaintiff had 5 severe affective and anxiety disorders. (AR 72-73). Dr. Lynch further 6 opined that Plaintiff was “moderately limited” in the following areas: 7 “[t]he ability to carry out details instructions”; “[t]he ability to 8 carry out detailed instructions”; “[t]he ability to complete a normal 9 workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based 10 symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable 11 number and length or rest periods”; “[t]he ability to accept 12 instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors”; 13 “[t]he ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting”; 14 and “[t]he ability to set realistic goals or make plans independently of 15 others.” (AR 74-76, bolded for emphasis). Dr. Lynch ultimately opined 16 that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 78). 17 18 The ALJ’s decision addressed Dr. Lynch’s report as follows: 19 20 Also inconsistent with the claimant’s allegations in this 21 case, 22 capacity found in this decision is the medical opinion of 23 record. 24 indicated that the claimant is disabled or even that she is 25 more limited than found in this decision. 26 medical opinion of record was provided by a State Agency 27 medical consultant, who found the claim was limited to simple 28 tasks (Ex. 2A). and fully It is consistent emphasized with that the no residual treating functional doctor has In fact, the only However, there is nothing in the record to 5 1 support this restriction, as the claimant reported that the 2 fast pace of work was difficult for her, as opposed to the 3 actual work itself. 4 weight. Therefore, this opinion is given little (AR 30). 5 6 The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Lynch’s opinion that Plaitniff 7 was limited to simple tasks, finding this limitation to be unsupported 8 by the record. (AR 30). However, the ALJ did not acknowledge or 9 address Dr. Lynch’s opinion that Plaintiff was moderately limited in her 10 ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions, 11 and failed to provide any reason(s) for rejecting this opinion. 12 13 B. Remand Is Warranted 14 15 The decision whether to remand for further proceedings or order an 16 immediate award of benefits is within the district court’s discretion. 17 Harman v. Apfel, 211 F.3d 1172, 1175-78 (9th Cir. 2000). Where no 18 useful purpose would be served by further administrative proceedings, or 19 where the record has been fully developed, it is appropriate to exercise 20 this discretion to direct an immediate award of benefits. Id. at 1179 21 (“[T]he decision of whether to remand for further proceedings turns upon 22 the likely utility of such proceedings.”). However, where, as here, the 23 circumstances of the case suggest that further administrative review 24 could remedy the Commissioner’s errors, remand is appropriate. McLeod 25 v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 888 (9th Cir. 2011); Harman v. Apfel, supra, 26 211 F.3d at 1179-81. 27 28 6 1 Since the ALJ failed to properly address the State Agency 2 physician’s opinion regarding Plaintiff’s ability to complete a normal 3 workday and workweek, remand is appropriate. Because outstanding issues 4 must be resolved before a determination of disability can be made, and 5 “when the record as a whole creates serious doubt as to whether the 6 [Plaintiff] is, in fact, disabled within the meaning of the Social 7 Security Act,” further administrative proceedings would serve a useful 8 purpose and remedy defects. Burrell v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 1133, 1141 (9th 9 Cir. 2014)(citations omitted). 10 11 ORDER 12 13 For the foregoing reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is 14 reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings pursuant to 15 Sentence 4 of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 16 17 LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY. 18 19 DATED: October 12, 2017 20 21 22 /s/ ALKA SAGAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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