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Doria A. Mcclintock v. Michael J. Astrue

July 24, 2012

DORIA A. MCCLINTOCK,
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 Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). She claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he: (1) found that she was not credible; (2) rejected the treating doctors' opinions; (3) found that her mental impairments were not severe; and (4) determined her residual functional capacity. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the ALJ did not err and affirms the Agency's decision denying benefits.

II. SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS

This case has been bouncing around for more than a decade. In 2000, Plaintiff applied for SSI after injuring her back in a car crash. (Administrative Record ("AR") 13, 103-05.) Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which she requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 74, 82, 98, 100.) Following a hearing in January 2002, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 11-16, 473-518.) She appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 519-20.) Plaintiff then filed an action in this court and, in 2003, the parties stipulated to a remand for further proceedings. (AR 522-25.)

On remand, the ALJ held another hearing and, in December 2004, again denied the application. (AR 326-338, 369-452.) Plaintiff appealed to this court and, in September 2005, the parties, again, stipulated to a remand. (AR 641-46.)

On remand, a new ALJ held a third hearing and, in 2008, denied Plaintiff's application. (AR 598-612, 852-890.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (AR 591.) More than two years later, in March 2010, the Appeals Council denied review. (AR 586-88.) In June 2010, Plaintiff appealed to this court. Between June 2010 and February 2012, the parties were apparently attempting to resolve the case, to no avail. In February 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation and the case is now ready for decision.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The ALJ's Credibility Finding The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not credible. Plaintiff contends that he erred in doing so. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err.

ALJs are tasked with judging the credibility of the witnesses. Where a claimant has produced objective medical evidence of an impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms and there is no evidence of malingering, an 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. Id. at 1284.

The ALJ cited several reasons for questioning Plaintiff's credibility. (AR 603-04, 610.) He noted that Plaintiff testified that she had been exempted from work requirements by Cal Works because she was disabled but that the documentation from Cal Works stated that her exemption was based on the fact that she was caring for her then-20-year-old disabled son.*fn1 (AR 399, 603.) As the ALJ pointed out, at the same time, Plaintiff claimed to the Agency that her 22-year-old daughter was providing care for her son because Plaintiff was unable to do so. (AR 397, 603.) Thus, Plaintiff was obviously misrepresenting who was doing what before Cal Works or the Agency in an effort to manipulate the process and receive payments from both.

This is a valid reason for questioning Plaintiff's testimony, see Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1284, and is supported by the record.*fn2

The ALJ also questioned Plaintiff's testimony because it was contradicted by her activities. (AR 604.) For example, she presented herself as someone who was so wracked with pain that she was unable to function. (AR 388-407.) She explained that she was so limited that she could not even drive her son to school anymore and relied on her daughter to drive. (AR 397, 402.) Yet, she admitted that she had driven 45 minutes to the administrative hearing with her daughter in the car and had no credible explanation as to why her daughter had not driven or why Plaintiff was suddenly able to perform such a task despite her alleged inability to do so. (AR 402.) Again, this is a valid reason for questioning Plaintiff's veracity and it is supported by the record.

The ALJ also relied on the fact that the objective medical evidence did not support the extent of Plaintiff's claimed limitations. The MRIs and the CT scans did not reveal any reason for Plaintiff to be as debilitated as she claimed. (AR 170 (noting normal CT scan from January 2000), 172.) And, contrary to the medical evidence, Plaintiff claimed at the administrative hearing in 2004, five years after the accident that caused her injuries, that her condition had "dramatically changed" for the worse (AR 388-89), yet there was nothing in the medical record to support such a claim. The ALJ's reliance on this reason to reject Plaintiff's credibility was valid. See Carmickle ...


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