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Helen Castillo v. Carolyn W. Colvin

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


April 29, 2013

HELEN CASTILLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,*FN1 DEFENDANT.

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Helen Castillo ("Plaintiff") challenges the Social Security Commissioner's ("Defendant") decision denying her application for disability benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected her credibility. (Joint Stip. at 2-9, 12.) The Court disagrees.

An ALJ can reject a claimant's subjective complaints by 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 presented at least three reasons in support of his credibility determination.

First, the ALJ observed that Plaintiff reported three different years -- 1990, 2000, and 2006 -- as the last time she used drugs. (AR at 17, 379); see Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2002) (inconsistent statements may properly discredit a claimant). Plaintiff mistakenly contends that these dates are irrelevant because they all occurred well before the April 2008 onset date. (Joint Stip. at 7.) Though disability is assessed from the alleged onset date, credibility is subject to no such limitations. The inquiry is broad, simply concerning "the degree to which the [claimant's] statements can be believed and accepted as true." Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186, at *4. Thus, as to this point, the ALJ made no error in his credibility determination.*fn2

Second, the ALJ noted the opinion of the consultative examiner, Dr. Kent Jordan, who found that Plaintiff appeared to "'highly embellish' her psychiatric symptomatology." (AR at 16, 377); see Thomas, 278 F.3d at 958-59 (credibility may be assessed via physician reports that address "the nature, severity, and effect of" a claimant's alleged symptoms). According to Dr. Jordan, Plaintiff presented "a big discrepancy between [her alleged] psychiatric symptoms . . . and [the] reasons that [she] cannot work." (AR at 377.) These findings are significant, and weigh heavily against Plaintiff's veracity.

Third, the ALJ cited Plaintiff's sporadic work history before her alleged onset date as raising "a question as to whether [her] continuing unemployment is actually due to medical impairments." (AR at 18); see Strauss v. Apfel, 246 F.3d 676 (9th Cir. 2000) ("spotty work history" is a valid reason for discrediting a claimant). Remarkably, the Certified Earnings Report noted numerous "possible gaps" in Plaintiff's earnings, including from 1993 to 1996, and from 2001 to 2003. (See AR at 127.) No reason exists to upset the ALJ's determination here.

Thus, for the reasons stated above, the ALJ's credibility determination is valid.*fn3

Accordingly, the Court finds that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled. See Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001).

Based on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED THAT judgment shall be entered AFFIRMING the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits.


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