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Thompson v. Astrue

August 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge


Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI"). Because the Agency's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is supported by substantial evidence, it is affirmed.

On December 8, 2005, Plaintiff applied for SSI. (Administrative Record ("AR") 29.) After the Agency denied the application, Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 33-40.) On April 30, 2007, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at the hearing and testified. (AR 187-202.) On May 24, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 7-16.) After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (AR 3-5), she commenced this action.

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider: 1) the treating psychologist's mental status examination findings; 2) the treating psychologist's work capacity evaluation; and 3) the written testimony of Plaintiff's sister Latania Toliver. (Joint Stip. at 3-4, 7-8, 10-11.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that these claims are without merit.

In her first claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected, without explanation, the findings contained in a mental status examination form filled out by her treating psychologist Rigoverto Briceno. (Joint Stip. at 3-4.) For the following reasons, the Court disagrees.

Plaintiff first went to see Dr. Briceno on September 7, 2006. During this first visit, Dr. Briceno prepared a mental status examination form, indicating that Plaintiff appeared anxious, had poor concentration, and was "highly distractible." (AR 185.) He also noted that her memory was impaired, that her behavior was destructive, and that she reported experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. (AR 185.)

In her decision, the ALJ highlighted these findings but also noted that Dr. Briceno had reported on the same form that Plaintiff was fully oriented, her cognition, insight, and judgment were intact, and she displayed normal affect. (AR 13.) In addition, the ALJ pointed out that Plaintiff had reported to Dr. Briceno that she was attending school and caring for her two sons. (AR 13.) After taking into account the less severe diagnosis of examining psychiatrist David Bedrin (discussed infra), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's history of bipolar disorder was a severe impairment, which would cause slight restrictions in activities of daily living and social functioning, and moderate limitations on ability to perform activities requiring concentration, persistence, and pace. (AR 11, 14.)

Plaintiff takes exception to these findings. Though she concedes that the ALJ considered Dr. Briceno's mental status examination in the decision, she argues that the ALJ's failure to discuss the report of visual and auditory hallucinations, the "aggressive-destructive-poor impulse control problems," the excessive crying, and the isolated and withdrawn demeanor amounts to a "rejection" of these findings without adequate justification. The Court disagrees.

The starting point for a discussion of the ALJ's treatment of the treating psychologist's report is the ALJ's credibility finding. She found that Plaintiff was not credible, (AR 19), and the record supports this finding. For example, Plaintiff, at the very least, grossly exaggerated her condition and, at the very worst, flat out lied about it in a form she filled out and submitted to the Agency. (AR 66-73.) In that form, entitled "Function Report-Adult," Plaintiff described her activities from the time she woke up until the time she went to bed as follows:

I just sit around[,] cry, rock back and forth[,] and talk to myself and God and try to be quiet and try to rest to [the] best of my knowledge. And take my motrins and milk [and] advils. (AR 66.)

The person Plaintiff described to the Agency in this form is someone who would likely be institutionalized, not someone who reported at various times to various doctors that she was taking care of herself and her 13- and 15-year old sons and going to school. Further, and importantly, Plaintiff has not challenged the ALJ's credibility finding, which undermines her claim that the ALJ erred in rejecting the treating psychologist's findings without proper justification. Where, as here, a claimant does not challenge the ALJ's adverse credibility finding, she cannot argue that the ALJ erred in her decision not to credit the treating psychologist's assessment, which was based in large part on Plaintiff's statements to the doctor. See Siska v. Barnhart, No. C 00-4788 MMC, 2002 WL 31750220, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2002).

Turning now to the merits of Plaintiff's claim, the Court finds that the ALJ did not err. Dr. Briceno's "findings" in the mental status examination report were not really findings, but, rather, parroting of what Plaintiff told the doctor that she was experiencing. Dr. Briceno did not witness Plaintiff crying, rocking, seeing things, or hearing voices. (AR 184-85.) What he did observe was someone who was fairly stable, except, perhaps, for some anxiety. (AR 185.) Plaintiff was clean, appropriately dressed, spontaneous, friendly, cooperative, and oriented. (AR 185.) Her affect was normal and her cognition, insight, and judgment intact. (AR 185.) These findings are consistent with the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Plaintiff's psychiatric impairments did not prevent her from working. Because Dr. Briceno's "findings" in the mental status examination report were based on Plaintiff's allegations, and because Plaintiff was not credible, her argument that the ALJ erred in rejecting these findings is not persuasive.*fn1

Plaintiff's complaint that the ALJ failed to fully discuss Dr. Briceno's findings is also without merit. The ALJ summarized Briceno's findings in her decision. (AR 13.) She was not required to fully evaluate every entry Dr. Briceno made, so long as her decision was supported by substantial evidence, which it was. See Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1012 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that ALJ's failure to discuss particular medical report was not error where the record showed the ALJ did not "selectively analyze the evidence."). For this reason, this claim does not warrant remand or reversal.*fn2

In her second claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected Dr. Briceno's work capacity evaluation findings. (Joint ...

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