United States District Court, D. Nevada
STEFANIE J. GOLDSTEIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
GLORIA M. NAVARRO, Chief District Judge.
Pending before the Court for consideration is a Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16) filed by Plaintiff Stefanie J. Goldstein ("Plaintiff"). This motion was referred to the Honorable George W. Foley, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge, for a report of findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636 (b)(1)(B) and (C). On January 16, 2014, Judge Foley entered the Report & Recommendation (ECF No. 21), recommending Plaintiff's Motion to Remand be granted. Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin ("Defendant") filed her Objection to the Report & Recommendation (ECF No. 22) on February 3, 2014. Plaintiff has not filed a Response to the Objection.
Pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental Social Security income on September 16, 2009, alleging that she became disabled beginning on September 1, 2007. (Mot. to Remand 3:4-7, ECF No. 16.) Defendant denied Plaintiff's application on March 12, 2010 and again on June 25, 2010. ( Id. 3:7-10.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. 3:10-12.)
At the hearing on July 20, 2011, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled. (Mot. to Remand 3:14, ECF No. 16; Report & Recommendation 13:19-20, ECF No. 21.) Before deciding at step four whether Plaintiff's physical and mental impairments prevented her from performing her past work, the ALJ determined her residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (Report & Recommendation 14:10-11, ECF No. 21.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; to stand or walk at least four hours out of an 8-hour workday; to sit for six hours out of an 8 hour workday; that she had occasional postural limitations with limited stair climbing and no working around unprotected heights. ( Id. 14:12-16.) Mentally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was limited to simple repetitive tasks. ( Id. )
However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's alleged symptoms-which included loss of muscle strength in her left arm and leg, numbness in her arm, poor vision in her left eye, difficulty speaking and concentrating, memory loss, and daily headaches-were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the assessment of her RFC. ( Id. 12:10-18, 14:18-20.) Specifically, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had been able to participate in the administrative hearing and respond to questioning without any apparent difficulty. ( Id. 14:23-25.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had been noncompliant with hypertension treatment prior to a brainstem hemorrhage, and thus rejected Plaintiff's testimony regarding the severity of her impairments and limitations. ( Id. 15:1, 18:9-10.)
Based on an assessment of Plaintiff's RFC and testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past work as a mail order filler. ( Id. 15:17-19.) The ALJ made an alternative finding at step five that Plaintiff can perform other jobs existing in the national economy, namely unskilled sedentary work, and subsequently finding that Plaintiff is "not disabled" pursuant to Medical-Vocational Rules 201.28 and 201.21. ( Id. 15:19-24.) Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied on November 9, 2012, and the ALJ's decision became Defendant's final decision. (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 3.)
On January 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Complaint for Review of the Final Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed her Answer (ECF No. 10) on April 1, 2013. Plaintiff filed her Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16) the case back to the Social Security Administration on June 24, 2013. On August 14, 2013, Defendant filed her Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 19) in which she also asks this Court to affirm Defendant's final decision. Plaintiff filed her Reply in Support of Motion to Remand (ECF No. 20) on September 3, 2013.
This matter was subsequently referred to Magistrate Judge Foley for a report of findings and recommendations. On January 16, 2014, Judge Foley entered a Report & Recommendation (ECF No. 21) recommending that this Court grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 16) because the ALJ erred in the fourth step of the sequential process. At this step, according to Judge Foley, (1) Plaintiff's noncompliance with treatment was not a valid reason for rejecting her testimony, and (2) the ALJ incorrectly concluded from the vocational expert's testimony that Plaintiff could perform her past work as a mail order filler. (Report & Recommendation 19:21-20:3, 24:19-20, ECF No. 21.) Judge Foley also found that the ALJ erred at step five in relying exclusively on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, rather than on the vocational expert's testimony, to find that Plaintiff can perform other unskilled sedentary work in the economy and is therefore not disabled. ( Id. 24:24-26:16.)
Defendant filed an Objection (ECF No. 22) on February 3, 2014, arguing that the ALJ's findings were correct.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A party may file specific written objections to the findings and recommendations of a United States Magistrate Judge made pursuant to Local Rule IB 1-4. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); D. Nev. R. IB 3-2. Upon the filing of such objections, the Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which objections are made. Id. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); D. Nev. IB 3-2(b).
A federal court's review of an ALJ's decision on social security disability is limited to determining only (1) whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and (2) whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Delorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a ...