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Colwell v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 1, 2018

LORI A. COLWELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendants.

          ORDER

         Presently before the court is Magistrate Judge Foley's report and recommendation (“R&R”). (ECF No. 23). Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration filed an objection (ECF No. 24), to which plaintiff Lori Colwell responded (ECF No. 25).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (ECF No. 20). Defendant filed a response (ECF No. 22). Plaintiff did not file a reply, and the time for doing so has since passed.

         Also before the court is defendant's cross-motion to affirm. (ECF No. 21). Plaintiff has not filed a response, and the time for doing so has since passed.

         I. Background

         The parties do not object to the extensive factual presentation in the R&R. Therefore, the court adopts the factual representation in the R&R and will detail factual and procedural background in the discussion section of this order as necessary to explain the court's holding.

         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); LR IB 3-2. Where a party timely objects to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the court is required to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the [report and recommendation] to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” Id.

         Pursuant to Local Rule IB 3-2(a), a party may object to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge within fourteen (14) days from the date of service of the findings and recommendations. Similarly, Local Rule 7-2 provides that a party must file an opposition to a motion within fourteen (14) days after service of the motion.

         III. Discussion

         Magistrate Judge Foley's R&R holds that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred when evaluating and weighing the medical opinions of numerous treating and non-treating physicians in this case. (ECF No. 23). The R&R also holds that the ALJ erred in discrediting plaintiff's testimony regarding her limitations. Id. The R&R recommends that the court remand this case with instructions to award benefits. Id.

         Defendant does not specifically object to Magistrate Judge Foley's holding that the ALJ erred when evaluating the opinions of the doctors and discrediting plaintiff's testimony. (ECF No. 24). Instead, defendant objects to Magistrate Judge Foley's prescribed remedy of a remand solely for benefits. Id. Defendant argues that “conflicts, ambiguities, and serious doubt remain as to whether plaintiff is in fact disabled, ” which makes a remand for further proceedings the appropriate remedy. Id. at 10.

         Plaintiff responds that Magistrate Judge Foley's recommended remedy is appropriate in this case. (ECF No. 25). Plaintiff asserts that the record does not contain sufficient conflicts or ambiguities so as to render further proceedings useful. Id. Plaintiff further argues that if plaintiff's improperly discredited testimony were credited as true, the ALJ would be required to award benefits. Id. Plaintiff therefore contends that a remand solely for benefits is the appropriate remedy. Id.

         The parties do not contest Magistrate Judge Foley's holding that the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting evidence. After reviewing the record and underlying briefs, the court agrees that the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the medical opinion of Dr. Barone and for rejecting plaintiff's testimony. The court will therefore consider the appropriate remedy.

         In Social Security cases, the “ordinary ‘remand' rule” applies when a reviewing court holds that an administrative law judge erred in denying benefits and the error was not harmless. See, e.g., Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012) (recognizing that harmless error principles apply in Social Security Act cases); Hoa Hong Van v. Barnhart, 483 F.3d 600, 605 (9th Cir. 2007) (noting that an erroneous decision to deny benefits can require reversal); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1044 (9th Cir. 2007) (discussing the ordinary remand rule). Under the ordinary remand rule, “the proper course, ...


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