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Ceballos v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

June 15, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


ALKA SAGAR, Magistrate Judge.


On September 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the denial of her application for Social Security benefits. (Docket Entry No. 1.) The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 8, 10.) On January 10, 2014, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint along with the Administrative Record ("A.R."). (Docket Entry Nos. 13, 14.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") on July 2, 2014, setting forth their respective positions on Plaintiff's claim. (Docket Entry No. 20.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15.


On February 1, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Social Security Income ("SSI"). (A.R. 142-47.) Plaintiff alleged an inability to work since February 11, 2010 due to severe depression, paranoia, suicidal tendencies, and homicidal tendencies. (A.R. 166.) On April 2, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Mason D. Harrell, Jr., examined the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and vocational expert Mary Jesko. (A.R. 23-42.) On June 24, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. (A.R. 6-22.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depression and obesity. (A.R. 11.) However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (See A.R. 13-18.)

Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 14-15.) The request was denied on July 19, 2013. (A.R. 1-4.) The ALJ's decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner, allowing this Court to review the decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c).


Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in: (1) discounting the credibility of Plaintiff's testimony and subjective complaints in support of her disability claim, and (2) finding an inconsistency between the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") and the ALJ's holding that the Plaintiff can perform the jobs of small products assembler and garment folder. (Joint Stip. 3.)


A. The ALJ Did Not Err In Evaluating Plaintiff's Credibility

An ALJ's assessment of a claimant's credibility is entitled to "great weight." See Anderson v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1121, 1124 (9th Cir. 1990); Nyman v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 1985). "[T]he ALJ is not required to believe every allegation of disabling pain, or else disability benefits would be available for the asking, a result plainly contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A)." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). In order to determine whether a claimant's testimony is credible, the ALJ engages in a two-step analysis. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1014 (9th Cir. 2014).

First, the claimant "must produce objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.'" Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir. 1991) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A)(1988)). In producing evidence of the underlying impairment, "the claimant need not produce objective medical evidence of the pain or fatigue itself, or the severity thereof." Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1282 (9th Cir. 1996). Instead, the claimant "need only show that [the impairment] could reasonably have caused some degree of the symptom." Id.

Second, once the claimant has produced the requisite objective medical evidence, the "ALJ may reject the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of her symptoms." Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1284. Absent affirmative evidence of malingering, however, the ALJ may only reject a plaintiff's testimony "by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so." Id . In assessing a claimant's alleged symptoms, an ALJ may consider: "(1) ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation, such as claimant's reputation for lying, prior inconsistent statements concerning the symptoms, and other testimony by the claimant that appears to be less than candid; (2) unexplained or inadequately explained failure to seek treatment or to follow a prescribed course of treatment; and (3) the claimant's daily activities." Id . An ALJ may also consider "the claimant's work record and observations of treating and examining physicians and other third parties." Id.

Here, the ALJ examined the Administrative Record and heard testimony from Plaintiff. Based on the record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had produced objective medical evidence of underlying impairments that "could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms." (A.R. 14.) However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's "statements concerning the ...

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