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Lugo v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 5, 2014

MARGARITA LUGO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAY C. GANDHI, Magistrate Judge.

Margarita Lugo ("Plaintiff") challenges the Social Security Commissioner's ("Defendant") decision denying her application for disability benefits. Three issues are presented for decision here:[2]

1. whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility, ( see Joint Stip. at 5);

2. whether the ALJ properly interpreted Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score, ( see id. ); and

3. whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record. ( See id. at 6.)

The Court addresses, and rejects, Plaintiff's contentions below.

A. Plaintiff's Credibility

Plaintiff first complains that the ALJ improperly rejected her testimony regarding symptoms of "depression... hearing voices and seeing shadows." ( Id. at 5, AR at 55.) The Court disagrees.

An ALJ can reject a claimant's subjective complaints by expressing clear and convincing reasons for doing so. Benton ex rel. 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 three clear and convincing reasons in support of his credibility determination.

First, the ALJ properly relied on a lack of treatment in rejecting Plaintiff's testimony. See Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1284 (9th Cir. 1996) (noting that in evaluating credibility, the ALJ may consider any "inadequately explained failure to seek treatment"). In particular, although Plaintiff reported being depressed for three to four years, she did not seek treatment until August 2010, "eight months after her application was filed and four months after [this] appeal was filed." (AR at 23.)

Second, the ALJ properly rejected Plaintiff's credibility because her testimony was inconsistent with her initial disability report. ( See id. at 23, 166-70); Thomas v. Barnhart , 278 F.3d 947, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2002) (specifically listing inconsistent statements as a valid reason for discrediting a claimant). Here again, Plaintiff testified that she had been depressed for three to four years. Nevertheless, "she did not report any mental health problems when she filed her claim for benefits." (AR at 23.)

Third, the ALJ found that the objective medical evidence does not support Plaintiff's testimony. (AR at 21); see Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 856-57 (9th Cir. 2001) (finding that a lack of supporting medical evidence can be one, but not the only, reason for rejecting a claimant's testimony). Specifically, the ALJ noted that although Plaintiff claimed that her mental symptoms were the result of a stroke, "[t]here is no medical evidence of the claimant having a stroke. She was able to speak and be understood clearly at the hearing [and] no medical examiner has reported any speech difficulties with the claimant." (AR at 23.)

The Court does note, however, that the ALJ did improperly rely on Plaintiff's activities of daily living. Of these activities, the ALJ specifically noted that Plaintiff can care for her hygiene and manage her finances. ( Id. at 23.) But daily activities like these are not typically considered substantial gainful activities. Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 516 (9th Cir. 2001). Such activities only discredit a claimant if they are transferable to a work environment. Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ provided no evidence to suggest that such is the case here. Thus, there appears to be no basis for discrediting Plaintiff on this ground. However, in light of the numerous valid reasons provided by the ALJ, this error is harmless. See Carmickle v. Comm'r, 533 F.3d ...


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