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John Boda v. Carolyn W. Colvin

April 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge


John Boda ("Plaintiff") challenges the Social Security Commissioner's ("Defendant") decision denying his application for disability benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly rejected his credibility. (Joint Stip. at 9-12, 16.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff for the reasons discussed below.

A. The ALJ Failed to Provide Clear and Convincing Reasons for Rejecting Plaintiff's Credibility

An ALJ may reject a claimant's credibility "only upon (1) finding evidence of malingering, or (2) expressing clear and convincing reasons for doing so." Benton v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1040 (9th Cir. 2003). "General findings are insufficient; rather, the ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints." Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995).

Here, the ALJ provided two reasons in support of his credibility determination. The Court discusses -- and rejects -- each in turn.

First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has "unremarkable daily functioning." (AR at 29.) In particular, Plaintiff routinely "cleans his room, attends meetings, prepares his meals, does his shopping, clean[s,] . . . [does his] laundry, . . . uses public transportation, walks all over the place, and stands in line for long periods of time." (Id.) Notably, Plaintiff also accomplishes these tasks without any assistance. (Id.)

But such daily, and often necessary, activities are not typically grounds to discredit a claimant. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 516 (9th Cir. 2001) (specifically referencing "taking care of oneself, household tasks, hobbies, school attendance, club activities, [and] social programs"). Granted, in assessing a claimant's credibility, an ALJ may, as Defendant asserts, consider "whether the claimant engages in daily activities inconsistent with [their] alleged symptoms." (Joint Stip. at 15 (citing Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012)).) However, here, the ALJ noted no such inconsistencies, and none are apparent.*fn2 See

Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (reviewing court may only address those reasons raised by the ALJ in his decision). Thus, this reason fails to pass muster.

Second, the ALJ found that the severity of Plaintiff's symptoms, both physical and mental, are not supported by the objective medical evidence. (AR at 29.) True, with respect to his mental symptoms, Plaintiff's treatment records reveal only complaints of anxiety medicated by a prescription for Paxil from his general practitioner. (Id.; see AR at 193-266.) And though unexplained failures to seek proper treatment can cast doubt on the alleged severity of a condition, that reason is not applicable in the mental health context because the mentally ill "often do not recognize that their condition reflects a potentially serious mental illness." Van Nguyen v. Chater, 100 F.3d 1462, 1465 (9th Cir.1996).

Further, putting this error aside, the invalidity of the ALJ's first reason now forecloses any rejection based on a lack of supporting objective evidence. See Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345 (9th Cir. 1991) (an ALJ "may not reject a claimant's subjective complaints based solely on a lack of objective medical evidence to fully corroborate the alleged severity of pain.") Thus, as to this ground, the ALJ's credibility determination is inadequate.

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the Court determines that the ALJ improperly discredited Plaintiff.

B. Remand is Warranted

With error established, this Court has discretion to remand or reverse and award benefits. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 1989). Where no useful purpose would be served by further proceedings, or where the record has been fully developed, it is appropriate to exercise this discretion to direct an immediate award of benefits. See Benecke v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 595-96 (9th Cir. 2004). But where there are outstanding issues that must be resolved before a determination can be made, or it is not clear from the record that the ALJ would be required to find plaintiff disabled if all the evidence were properly evaluated, remand is appropriate. See id. at 594.

Here, there are outstanding issues which must be resolved before a final determination can be made. On remand, the ALJ shall reconsider Plaintiff's subjective complaints and the resulting functional limitations, and either credit Plaintiff's testimony or provide clear and ...

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