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Maria C. Mota v. Michael J. Astrue

March 18, 2011

MARIA C. MOTA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff appeals a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying her application for Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB"). She claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when she: (1) found that Plaintiff was not credible; and (2) failed to properly consider the limitations imposed by Plaintiff's mental impairment. (Joint Stip. at 5-16, 23-28.) For the following reasons, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred in addressing Plaintiff's mental impairment and remands the case to the Agency for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

II. SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS

On December 15, 2000, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB. (Administrative Record ("AR") 124-26.) After the Agency denied the application initially and on reconsideration, she requested and was granted an administrative hearing. (AR 68-69, 94-100.) On September 4, 2002, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at the hearing and testified. (AR 556-604.) On November 27, 2002, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. (AR 70-82.)

On November 27, 2005, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ to obtain additional evidence concerning Plaintiff's depression and anxiety, including, "if warranted and available, a consultative mental health examination with psychological testing and medical source statements . . . ." (AR 118.) The Appeals Council also ordered the ALJ to obtain evidence from a medical doctor to "clarify the nature and severity of [Plaintiff's] back impairment." (AR 119.)

On January 22, 2007, the ALJ held a hearing, at which Plaintiff again appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 605-44.) On March 27, 2007, the ALJ issued a new decision denying benefits. (AR 13-34.) Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council and the Appeals Council denied review. (AR 7-11.) She then commenced this action.*fn1

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Credibility Determination

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred when she concluded that Plaintiff was not credible. She contends that the ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting her testimony. (Joint Stip. at 9-16.) For the following reasons, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err.

ALJ's are tasked with judging the credibility of witnesses. Where a claimant has produced objective medical evidence of an impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged and there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ can only reject the claimant's testimony for specific, clear, and convincing reasons. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1283-84 (9th Cir. 1996). In making a credibility determination, the ALJ may take into account ordinary credibility evaluation techniques as well as the claimant's daily activities. Id. at 1284.*fn2

Plaintiff alleged that she suffered from severe pain that limited the use of her left side as a result of an injury she sustained at work in 1997. (AR 146, 284.) At the initial hearing in 2002, Plaintiff testified that her back and hips hurt when she sat for a long time. (AR 564.) She estimated that she could sit for about one hour before having to get up and walk around for about 15 minutes and that she could walk comfortably for about 45 minutes before having to sit down for 20 to 30 minutes. (AR 564, 565.) She also testified that she could stand comfortably for no longer than ten or 15 minutes. (AR 566.) Plaintiff complained that her left shoulder hurt when she raised her arms, that her left knee hurt whenever she bent it, and that her left ankle hurt when she stood for a long time. (AR 565, 566.) She testified that she had been using a prescription cane to walk for the past year. (AR 567.) Plaintiff also complained of losing her grip when she lifted heavy objects with her left hand and that her left hand hurt when she lifted it. (AR 568-69.) She testified that she was taking pain medication, which helped a little bit, and receiving physical therapy twice a week, which also relieved her pain somewhat. (AR 570-71.) She explained that her doctor had prescribed daily exercises, but the exercises caused her pain. (AR 571-72.) According to Plaintiff, she had to lie down once or twice a day for a half hour to relieve her pain. (AR 572.) She also testified that she suffered from memory and concentration problems and depression. (AR 569-70, 580-81, 610.)

The ALJ did not find Plaintiff's testimony credible. (AR 25-26.) She based this finding on the fact that: (1) Plaintiff's allegations were "out of proportion" to the objective medical findings;

(2) Plaintiff's treatment for her physical and mental ailments was limited; (3) There was no objective evidence that Plaintiff suffered memory or attention problems; (4) Plaintiff's recitation of her daily physical activities suggested that she was not as limited as she claimed; and (5) The evidence suggested that Plaintiff exaggerated her claims with her doctors and with the ALJ. (AR 25-26.) As explained below, the ALJ's reasons are legitimate and her findings are ...


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