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Cathy Simon v. Michael Astrue

August 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court




Plaintiff Cathy Simon seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for social security benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting the Court to remand for further administrative proceedings. [Doc. No. 14.] The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. [Doc. No. 15.] The motions raise a single issue: whether the administrative law judge ("ALJ") failed to properly consider lay witness statements by Plaintiff's daughter, Brittany Simon. [Doc. Nos. 14, 15.] Because the ALJ gave adequate reasons for discounting Brittany Simon's statements, and for the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.


In February 2008, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging she had been unable to work for over a year. In January 2009, her application having been denied both initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing on her claim. On March 1, 2010, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified on her own behalf. A psychiatrist and a vocational expert also testified. On March 17, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. In September 2010, the Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff filed her complaint seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on October 22, 2010.


A. Hearing Testimony

Plaintiff testified at the hearing that she was born in 1954, graduated from high school, and worked at a university coordinating campus events for disabled students. [Tr. 11-12.] Plaintiff stated that she retired in 2003, and then took care of her mother. [Tr. 12.] After testifying about a number of ailments that have plagued her over the years, [Tr. 14-25], Plaintiff discussed her activities: driving three or four times per week; doing housework, including laundry; and taking care of the house. [Tr. 26, 29.] Plaintiff testified that treatment did not help her. [Tr. 31.] A medical expert testified at the hearing that Plaintiff's alleged depression "should be considered contrived." [Tr. 38.] The ALJ asked if that was "the same as malingering," and the medical expert testified "that would be a fair statement." [Tr. 38.]

B. Lay Witness Statements

On February 29, 2008, Plaintiff's daughter, Brittany Simon, completed a third-party function report. [Tr. 290-97.] Brittany Simon wrote that Plaintiff took care of Plaintiff's husband and three children, cooked, drove, did light cleaning, and laundry. [Tr. 290-92.] Brittany wrote that Plaintiff shopped for groceries and managed money. [Tr. 293.] She wrote that Plaintiff had pain and stiffness that limited her physical activities; trouble concentrating and remembering; and could walk for 50 yards and pay attention for half an hour. [Tr. 295.]

C. The ALJ's Decision

After reviewing all the evidence, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff for disability using the five-step sequential evaluation process that is set forth in the Commissioner's regulations, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1520(a)(4) (2010), and made the following findings.

Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. [Tr. 50.] She had severe mental and physical impairments, but her impairments did not meet or equal any of the presumptively disabling listed impairments. [Tr. 50-53.] Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined by the Commissioner's regulations, but had mild limitations in activities of daily living, mild limitations in maintaining social functioning, mild limitations in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, mild limitations in tolerating work stress, and mild limitations in maintaining a daily and weekly schedule. [Tr. 53.] The ALJ found that Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony and her daughter's statements were not fully credible. [Tr. 54-62.] According to the ALJ, ...

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