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Abdullah v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 7, 2014

Abdulbasit Abdullah, Plaintiff,
Social Security Administration Commissioner, Defendant.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Abdulbasit Abdullah seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision finding him not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. 15. Plaintiff has also filed a motion to supplement the record.[1] Doc. 14. Defendant has filed a motion to remand and a supporting memorandum. Docs. 16, 17. The motions are fully briefed and no party has requested oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the Court will remand this case for further proceedings.

I. Background.

Plaintiff applied for disability and supplemental security insurance benefits on March 5, 2010, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2007. Doc. 15 at 2. After a hearing on October 14, 2011, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued an opinion on November 4, 2011 finding Plaintiff not disabled. A.R. 17-28. A request for review was denied by the Appeals Council and the ALJ's opinion became the Commissioner's final decision on September 4, 2013. Doc. 15 at 2.

II. Legal Standard.

Defendant's decision to deny benefits will be vacated "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). "Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. In determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the decision and the evidence that detracts from it. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). If there is sufficient evidence to support the Commissioner's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

III. Analysis.

Plaintiff advances four arguments as to why the ALJ's decision was erroneous. First, he argues that the ALJ failed to address "whether the opinion of [Plaintiff]'s treating physician, Dr. Sivakumar, and the evidence submitted from Dr. Geary establishes that [Plaintiff] meets or equals Listings 11.12 and/or 12.04." Doc. 15 at 1. Second, he argues that the opinion of Dr. Sivakumar, one of his treating physicians, was improperly rejected by the ALJ. Id. Next, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected his subjective testimony. Id. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to obtain the testimony of a vocational expert. Id.

Defendant asks the Court to remand the case to the Appeals Council for the purpose of considering Plaintiff's newly submitted evidence and for reconsidering Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, Plaintiff's ability to communicate in English, and "whether Plaintiff can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy[.]" Doc. 16 at 2. Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motion to remand and argues that the case should be remanded for an award of benefits based on the credit-as-true doctrine. Doc. 18 at 1. Because there are outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved, the Court will remand the case for further proceedings.

In Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292 (9th Cir. 1996), the Ninth Circuit held that evidence should be credited and an action remanded for an immediate award of benefits when the following three factors are satisfied: (1) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting evidence; (2) there are no outstanding issues that must be resolved before a determination of disability can be made; and (3) it is clear from the record that the ALJ would be required to find the claimant disabled were such evidence credited. Remand for an award of benefits is appropriate where the record is "fully developed." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 728.

Assuming, without deciding, that the ALJ improperly rejected either Dr. Sivakumar's opinion or Plaintiff's testimony, it is not clear that the ALJ would be required to find Plaintiff disabled if either was credited. There is no vocational expert testimony considering Dr. Sivakumar's opinion or Plaintiff's testimony and explaining what jobs would be available to Plaintiff if either was accepted as true. Further, the record cannot be said to be fully developed where the Plaintiff has submitted additional relevant records from Dr. Sivakumar which Defendant has not yet considered and acknowledges "could change the outcome of the case." Doc. 17 at 2. Accordingly, it is not clear to the Court that the ALJ would be required to find Plaintiff disabled if Dr. Sivamukar's opinion or Plaintiff's testimony were credited as true. The Court will therefore remand the case for further proceedings. Because the Defendant has indicated that an ALJ will reconsider a number of issues, including Plaintiff's residual functioning capacity, the Court need not address Plaintiff's arguments.

IT IS ORDERED that this case is remanded for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff's motion to supplement the record (Doc. 14) is granted. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly and terminate this action.

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