Vryhof v. Colvin

Filing 15

ORDER adopting 14 Report and Recommendation on cross-motion for summary judgment. The court denies Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and grants Defendants motion for summary judgment. Signed by Judge Jeffrey T. Miller on 8/30/2017. (jpp) (sjt).

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 ELAINE VRYHOF, Case No.: 16cv1825 JM (DHB) Plaintiff, 12 13 14 ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSSMOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT v. NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 15 16 Defendant. 17 18 19 On July 15, 2016, Plaintiff Elaine Vryhof filed a complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 20 § 405(g), asking for judicial review of the denial of Social Security disability benefits. 21 (Doc. No. 1.) On January 26, 2017, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 22 10.) Five days later, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social 23 Security, did the same. (Doc. No. 11.) Magistrate Judge Louisa S. Porter issued a Report 24 and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that this court deny Plaintiff’s motion and 25 grant Defendant’s motion. (Doc. No. 14.) Neither party filed objections to the R&R by 26 the date required. Now, having carefully considered the thorough and thoughtful R&R, 27 the record before the court, the applicable authorities, and the absence of any objections 28 to the R&R, the court adopts the R&R in its entirety and grants summary judgment in 1 16cv1825 JM (DHB) 1 favor of Defendant. 2 3 BACKGROUND The court hereby incorporates by reference the procedural background, (Doc. No. 4 14 at 2), and factual background, including the review of the administrative record, (id. at 5 5–12), as presented in the R&R. 6 LEGAL STANDARDS 7 A. 8 The duties of the district court in connection with a magistrate judge’s R&R are District Court Review of R&R 9 governed by 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). The district 10 court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which 11 objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, 12 the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); 13 see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); McDonnell Douglas Corp. 14 v. Commodore Bus. Machines, Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). If neither party 15 contests the magistrate judge’s proposed findings of fact, “the court may assume their 16 correctness and decide the motion on the applicable law.” Orand v. United States, 602 17 F.2d 207, 208 (9th Cir. 1979). The magistrate judge’s conclusions of law are reviewed 18 de novo, however, regardless of whether any party filed objections thereto. See Robbins 19 v. Carey, 481 F.3d 1143, 1146–47 (9th Cir. 2007). Judicial Review of the Commissioner’s Decision 20 B. 21 The R&R properly identifies the limited scope of judicial review applicable to a 22 final agency decision, (Doc. No. 14 at 4–5), and the court incorporates those standards by 23 reference. In short, a federal court must affirm the decision unless it “is not supported by 24 substantial evidence or it is based upon legal error.” Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 25 (9th Cir. 1999). 26 C. 27 As indicated in the R&R, a claimant must show two things to qualify for disability 28 Determination of Disability benefits under the Social Security Act: that (1) he or she suffers from a medically 2 16cv1825 JM (DHB) 1 determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous 2 period of twelve months or more, or would result in death, and (2) the impairment 3 renders the claimant incapable of performing the work he or she previously performed or 4 any other substantial gainful employment which exists in the national economy. 5 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 423(d)(2)(A). And as more thoroughly discussed in the 6 R&R, (Doc. No. 14 at 3–4), and incorporated herein, the administrative law judge 7 (“ALJ”) must employ the five-step sequential process laid out in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 to 8 make a determination of disability. 9 DISCUSSION 10 Plaintiff advances one primary argument in support of her motion for summary 11 judgment: that the ALJ impermissibly disregarded Dr. Margarita Alonso’s opinion— 12 specifically Dr. Alonso’s answers to a checklist-style mental impairment Residual 13 Functional Capacity questionnaire (“RFC”). In her R&R, Magistrate Judge Porter 14 rejected Plaintiff’s argument and found that the ALJ did not err in determining that the 15 RFC had no probative value. This court agrees. 16 To begin, the RFC contained conclusions with no underlying analysis. See Batson 17 v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 359 F.3d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 2004) (affirming denial of benefits 18 where ALJ discounted two treating doctors’ opinions because they were in the form of a 19 checklist, did not have supportive objective evidence, were contradicted by other 20 statements and assessments of the claimant’s medical condition, and were based on the 21 claimant’s subjective descriptions of pain); see also Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 22 1049 (9th Cir. 2001) (stating that, although “an ALJ cannot reject a claimant’s testimony 23 without giving clear and convincing reasons,” “it is the responsibility of the ALJ, not the 24 claimant’s physician, to determine residual functional capacity”). And although Plaintiff 25 argues that the RFC is supported “by treatment records and years of treatment,” the court 26 finds that even those records contradict, in many places, the cursory answers of the RFC. 27 More importantly (given the applicable scope of review), the ALJ provided 28 specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the RFC, and those specific and legitimate 3 16cv1825 JM (DHB) 1 reasons were supported by substantial evidence in the record. (See A.R. 30–37 2 (discussing—in a lengthy analysis with citations to the record—the applicable standard of 3 decision, the details of Plaintiff’s testimony, the credibility of Plaintiff’s testimony, the 4 medical opinions, evaluations, and records involved in the case along with the weight 5 given to each, and the ALJ’s ultimate reasons for rejecting Dr. Alonso’s RFC).) That 6 being the case, the ALJ did not err. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 7 1995), as amended (Apr. 9, 1996) (observing that an ALJ may reject a treating doctor’s 8 opinion if the ALJ provides “specific and legitimate reasons” supported by “substantial 9 evidence in the record”). 10 In sum, the court finds that the agency’s decision is not based on legal error or 11 unsupported by substantial evidence. Therefore, it will not be disturbed. Tidwell, 161 12 F.3d at 601. 13 14 CONCLUSION For the reasons stated, the court adopts the R&R in its entirety. Accordingly, the 15 court denies Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grants Defendant’s motion for 16 summary judgment. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the file. 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 19 20 DATED: August 30, 2017 JEFFREY T. MILLER United States District Judge 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4 16cv1825 JM (DHB)

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