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Ingham v. Astrue

May 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge



This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes this Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and defendant have filed their pleadings and the defendant has filed a certified transcript of the record ("AR"). After reviewing the matter, this Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.


On October 12, 2005, plaintiff, Terry Ingham, filed an application for SSI benefits alleging an inability to work since May 1, 2005, due to disability. After his claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ denied the claim in a written decision dated August 9, 2007. In filing a request for review, plaintiff submitted sixty-eight pages of new evidence to the Appeals Council. After considering the new evidence, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request, and the present action was subsequently filed in this Court.

Plaintiff raises four issue. Plaintiff alleges that (1) the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider the plaintiff's subjective complaints; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider the testimony of plaintiff's mother, Joan Ingham; (3) the ALJ erred in failing to consider the opinions of two doctors; and (4) the new and material evidence provided to the Appeals Council supports a remand.

Each of plaintiff's contentions will be addressed in turn. ISSUE No. 1:

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to make proper credibility findings regarding plaintiff's testimony, and failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for discrediting plaintiff's testimony regarding the severity of his pain and limitations. In response, defendant argues that the ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's testimony and subsequent finding that it was not credible was proper, because the ALJ articulated specific, clear and convincing reasons for discrediting plaintiff's allegations.

The Commissioner's assessment of plaintiff's credibility should be given great weight. Nyman v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 1985). In making a credibility determination of the claimant, unless there is affirmative evidence showing that the claimant is malingering, the ALJ's reasons for rejecting the claimant's testimony must be "clear and convincing." Valentine v. Comm'r Social Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 693 (9th Cir. 2009); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d at 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995). If an ALJ finds that a claimant's testimony relating to the intensity of his or her pain is unreliable, he must cite the reasons why he found the testimony unpersuasive. See Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The ALJ must specifically identify what testimony is credible and what testimony undermines the claimant's complaints. See Lester, 81 F.3d at 834; Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993).

Here, the ALJ provided clear and convincing reasons for determining that plaintiff was not credible as to his allegations of pain and limitations. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's "inconsistencies negatively impact his credibility and do not permit reliance on his statements." (AR 25). The ALJ allocated a considerable portion of his written decision to explaining the basis for his determination. (AR 24-25). Further, the ALJ "pointed to specific evidence in the record" that undermined plaintiff's claims. Morgan, 169 F.3d at 599 (finding the ALJ had provided "clear and convincing reasons" for rejecting the plaintiff's subjective complaints because the ALJ pointed to specific evidence in the record in identifying what testimony was credible and what was not). Specifically, the ALJ pointed out that there was very little evidence that plaintiff had sought treatment for pain or used any home remedies to alleviate the pain. (AR 24). There was no evidence to corroborate plaintiff's statements that he is "practically non-functional", or that he suffered sleep deprivation from pain, nor any concentration, attention, or cognitive deficits from pain. (AR 24). Also, the ALJ found plaintiff's daily activities were inconsistent with his allegations of excessive pain. Plaintiff took care of his own personal needs, did gardening, went grocery shopping, performed household chores, prepared breakfast, and drove a vehicle. (AR 25). See Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989) (finding that daily activities may be a reason to discredit excess pain allegations if the claimant is able to spend a substantial part of the day performing activities which are transferable to a work setting).

Therefore, since the ALJ found plaintiff's complaints of excessive pain and limitations lacked credibility, it was proper for him to reject plaintiff's testimony.

ISSUE No. 2:

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ committed legal error by failing to properly consider the lay testimony of plaintiff's mother, Joan Ingham. Defendant maintains that the ALJ's failure to explicitly assess Joan Ingham's testimony was, at most, harmless error.

The ALJ is required to consider the credibility of lay testimony provided by family members and friends who provide their own statement regarding a claimant's disabling symptoms. Bruce v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 2009). If an ALJ rejects lay witness testimony, the ALJ must provide specific reasons that are germane to each witness whose testimony he ...

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