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Alcala v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 4, 2015

GRACIELA HERNANDEZ ALCALA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PATRICK J. WALSH, Magistrate Judge.

I.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff appeals a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). She claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he rejected her treating psychologist's opinion, found that she was not credible, and concluded that she could perform various jobs. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err.

II.

SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS

In June 2011, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she had been unable to work since February 27, 2010, due to a combination of impairments, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. (Administrative Record ("AR") 32-39, 100, 117, 168-81.) After her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, she requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 98-103, 110-24.) On October 4, 2012, she appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing. (AR 24-48.) On December 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying the applications. (AR 10-19.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 1-6.) This action followed.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. The ALJ's Credibility Determination

Plaintiff testified at the administrative hearing that she suffered from episodes of dizziness, had gained weight over the last year, was unable to perform various daily activities, had blurred vision, and needed to lie down for four to five hours a day. (AR 32-40.) The ALJ rejected this testimony because he found that it was inconsistent with statements she had made to her doctors and because there was no medical basis for her claim that she had to lie down four to five hours a day. (AR 17.) Plaintiff contends that these reasons are not clear and convincing reasons for rejecting her testimony. (Joint Stip. at 13-15.) For the following reasons, the Court finds that they are.

ALJs are tasked with judging the credibility of witnesses, including the claimants. In evaluating testimony, they employ ordinary credibility evaluation techniques. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1284 (9th Cir. 1996). Where a claimant has produced objective medical evidence of an impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged and there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ can only reject the testimony for specific, clear, and convincing reasons, id. at 1283-84, that are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002).

The record supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's testimony was inconsistent with the record. For example, she testified that she weighed 195 pounds at the time of the hearing in October 2012 and had gained 11 pounds over the last year. (AR 35.) The medical records contradict that testimony. They establish that during the year before the hearing she weighed between 211 and 220 pounds. (AR 385, 396, 398, 406.) Thus, she had lost weight at the time of the hearing, not gained it.

During this same period, Plaintiff was telling her treating doctor that she was doing relatively well. For example, in June 2012, she told her doctor that her health "is generally good" and denied, among other things, fatigue and sleep disturbance. (AR 408.) At the hearing four months later, however, she testified that her body hurt so much that she had to lie down for four or five hours a day. (AR 36-37.) This was obviously inconsistent with her statements to her treating doctor and, as ...


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