Dominguez v. Colvin

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 12-14-2015
  • Case #: 13-17380
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Ikuta for the Court; Circuit Judges Melloy and Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

It is proper for a district court to remand the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to the agency for additional investigation or explanation, unless certain prerequisites are met for remanding for benefits.

April Dominguez filed a claim under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, which provides payment to individuals who are disabled under the Act. Dominguez claimed multiple illnesses including carpal tunnel syndrome. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) must follow a five-step framework from which disability can be proven either through fulfilling the first three steps, or through consideration of the individual’s residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) and whether the individual “can perform past relevant work” or other existing work. The ALJ determined that Dominguez had the right RFC, but that her mentioned symptoms of the “intensity, persistence, and limiting effect” were not credible enough to be consistent with the RFC. The ALJ justified this by using the opinion of an examining physician over the opinions of Dominguez’s treating physician. The district court held that the ALJ made a legal error in rejecting Dominguez’s treating physician without sufficient reasons. Dominguez argued that the district court abused its discretion in not giving instructions to award benefits upon remand. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in remanding for further proceedings instead of benefits. The panel explained that in order to remand with instructions to provide benefits, the district court must first determine that a legal error was made by the ALJ, and that the record was “fully developed” and devoid of unresolved factual issues, inconsistencies, or conflicts. Then the district court must consider whether the ALJ would have found the individual disabled had the improperly rejected evidence been true. In examining the record, the panel found several inconsistencies and conflicts within the record, particularly within the treating physician’s notes. The panel therefore affirmed the district court’s order to remand for further proceedings by the ALJ due to those unresolved factual issues. AFFIRMED.

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