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Stella Goodwin v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

September 26, 2011

STELLA GOODWIN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE COMMISSIONER'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM ORDER PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 60(B)

On May 31, 2011, this Court issued its Order Reversing the Commissioner of Social Security's Decision to Deny Plaintiff Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("Order").*fn1 Before the Court is Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration's ("the Commissioner") Motion for Relief from Order Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) ("Motion"), filed on July 5, 2011. Pro se Plaintiff Stella Jane Goodwin ("Plaintiff") did not respond to the Motion. The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i ("Local Rules"). After careful consideration of the Motion and the relevant legal authority, the Commissioner's Motion is HEREBY GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART for the reasons set forth below. The Motion is GRANTED insofar as this Court will issue an amended Order clarifying the scope of remand. The Motion is DENIED in all other respects.

BACKGROUND

The parties and the Court are familiar with the factual and legal history of this case, and the Court will only repeat the history that is relevant to the instant Motion.

In the instant case, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner's July 30, 2009 decision denying Plaintiff social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("the Decision"). Administrative Law Judge Henry M. Tai ("the ALJ") conducted a hearing on March 22, 2007 and, on May 25, 2007, issued his decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled ("the ALJ Decision"). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ Decision, rendering it the Commissioner's final Decision. The instant action followed. Order, 2011 WL 2160497, at *1-2.

In the Order, this Court noted that an ALJ evaluating a claim for social security disability benefits applies a five-step analysis. Id. at *5 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007)). This Court also noted that neither party contested: the ALJ's step one finding that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date; the ALJ's step two finding that Plaintiff suffered from a severe combination of impairments; or the ALJ's step three finding that Plaintiff's combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P, Regulation 4. Id. at *7. As to the fourth step, whether Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to do her past relevant work, this Court found that the ALJ's adverse credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence in the record because the ALJ's reasons for the adverse credibility determination were not clear and convincing. Further, this Court ruled that the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform simple repetitive tasks, which was based upon the erroneous credibility determination, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Court also ruled that the ALJ erred in the fifth step, where he found that Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy in light of her age, education, and work experience, because this finding was also based on the erroneous RFC finding. Id. at *11-12.

The Court therefore reversed the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at *12. The Court remanded the case to the ALJ and directed the ALJ to find that Plaintiff was disabled as of the date of the ALJ Decision, but directed the ALJ to conduct further proceedings on the following: 1) determination of Plaintiff's onset date of disability; and 2) determination of Plaintiff's eligibility for benefits based on her onset date of disability; and 3) if Plaintiff is eligible for benefits based on her onset date, calculation of benefits. Id. at *14.

In the instant Motion, the Commissioner argues that this Court should reconsider its findings regarding Plaintiff's RFC and affirm the Decision. In the alternative, if this Court still concludes that a remand is necessary, the Commissioner argues that this Court should reconsider the scope of the remand.

The Commissioner argues that this Court misapplied Ninth Circuit precedent when it ruled that the ALJ erred in considering: "Plaintiff's presentation during medical examinations as a basis for finding her capable of concentrating, maintaining persistence and pace, and performing simple repetitive tasks[;]" [Motion at 3;] "Plaintiff's daily activities, including driving, pet care, working on puzzles and preparing simple meals, to find her capable of simple work throughout a work day[;]" [id. at 4 (citation omitted;] and "Plaintiff's ability to shop, interact with family and interact with medical examiners to conclude that Plaintiff had only minimal restrictions on her ability to interact with others while at work" [id. at 5 (citation omitted)]. The Commissioner also argues that Plaintiff's ability to travel to Las Vegas to visit her daughter was a valid credibility factor and that the conservative medical treatment of Plaintiff's mental health condition is, standing alone, sufficient to support an adverse credibility determination. The Commissioner reiterates that, at times during the period in question, Plaintiff worked part-time or attempted to look for employment. Further, no doctor assessed Plaintiff with any physical functional limitations. The Commissioner argues that, even if the record could support either affirming or reversing an ALJ's Decision, a district court cannot substitute its judgment for the ALJ's.

If the Court will not reconsider its reversal of the Decision, the Commissioner argues that the Court must reconsider the scope of remand. This Court cannot require the ALJ to find on remand that Plaintiff was disabled as of the date of the ALJ's Decision because the record does not establish that Plaintiff's alleged impairments satisfied the duration requirement by preventing her from engaging in substantial gainful activity for twelve consecutive months or more. The Commissioner asserts that this Court must allow the ALJ on remand to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled.

Plaintiff did not file a response to the Motion.

STANDARD

Local Rule 60.1 states, in pertinent part: "Motions seeking reconsideration of case-dispositive orders shall be governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 or 60, as applicable." The Commissioner seeks relief from the Order pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) and Local Rule 60.1. [Motion at 1-2.] In general, "[a] motion for reconsideration must '[f]irst . . . demonstrate some reason why the court should reconsider its prior decision. Second, a motion for reconsideration must set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court to reverse its prior decision.'" In re O'Kelley, CV No. 10-00356 DAE-LEK, 2010 WL 4176540, at *4 (D. Hawai`i Oct. 19, 2010) (quoting White v. Sabatino, 424 F. Supp. 2d 1271, 1274 (D. Haw. 2006) (some alterations in O'Kelley)). In particular, "Rule 60(b)(6) . . . grants federal courts broad authority to relieve a party from final judgment 'upon such terms as are ...


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