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Estrada v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 28, 2019

CINDY M. ESTRADA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on a Report and Recommendation RE: Social Security Disability Appeal by the Honorable Mary Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge. Dkt. #16. Judge Theiler recommends that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits be affirmed. Plaintiff has filed objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). Dkt. #17. Defendant asks that the Court adopt the R&R and affirm the Commissioner's decision but otherwise stands on its prior briefing. Dkt. #18. Having fully considered Plaintiff's objections, the R&R, and the remainder of the record, the Court adopts the R&R and affirms.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff does not object to the facts as recited in the R&R and the Court therefore adopts the facts and procedural history as set forth in the R&R. For the purposes of this Order, it suffices to note that this Court previously remanded the action for further administrative proceedings. Estrada v. Colvin, No. C16-5029BAT (W.D. Wash.). On remand, a second hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. More specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) allowed her to perform past relevant work. Plaintiff appealed. After consideration, Judge Theiler recommends that this Court affirm the ALJ's decision.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         A district court has jurisdiction to review a magistrate judge's R&R on dispositive matters. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). “A judge of 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). The court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which specific written objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc). “The statute makes it clear that the district judge must review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise.” Id.

         While review of the R&R is de novo, the court must defer to the ALJ's findings and may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216-17 (9th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).

         The court must review the record as a whole and may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ determines credibility, resolves conflicts in medical testimony, and resolves any other ambiguities that may exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the ALJ's conclusion. Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954.

         B. Plaintiff's Objections

         Plaintiff, tracking the issues of her opening brief, raises several objections to the R&R, necessitating de novo review. However, Plaintiff's objections do not reveal error in the ALJ's decision or the R&R and the R&R is ultimately consistent with the Court's own de novo review of the record. Nevertheless, the Court addresses Plaintiff's objections as follows.

         Absenteeism

         Plaintiff objects to the R&R, relying primarily on public policy grounds, and alleges error in that Judge Theiler focused on “functional limitations and restrictions resulting from medically determinable impairments” instead of Plaintiff's asserted barrier to work in this case-her frequent medical appointments. Dkt. #17 at 1-2. Plaintiff provides no legal support for her position and instead advances broad policy arguments. Conversely, the Court agrees with Judge Theiler's analysis and reliance on Goodman v. Berryhill, C17-5115BAT (W.D. Wash. Sep. 25, 2017) (noting that frequent medical treatment is not irrelevant, but must be ‚Äúnecessitated by the medical ...


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