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Luevano v. Berryhill

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

June 2, 2017

JUANITA M. LUEVANO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS F. MCCORMICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Juanita M. Luevano (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this matter is dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on June 1, 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) 102-03, 107, 269-77. After her application was denied, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). AR 137-39. A hearing was held on December 13, 2011, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). AR 33-62. In a written decision issued December 30, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. AR 107-14. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, AR 180-82, and on July 23, 2013, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings, AR 119-21.

         On April 25, 2014, a different ALJ held a hearing, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified. AR 63-77. The ALJ then continued the hearing to allow Plaintiff to submit additional records. Id. On June 23, 2014, the ALJ held an additional hearing, at which Plaintiff and a VE testified. AR 79-101.

         In a written decision issued July 9, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. AR 14-24. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's back condition was not a medically determinable impairment, a finding that Plaintiff does not challenge. AR 16. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of depression and anxiety, but she retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations:

she can do work on a sustained basis requiring only basic, simple mathematic skills such as simple adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Also on a sustained basis, she can understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers and usual work situations; and can deal with changes in routine work setting changes. AR 16-18. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. AR 23-24. He therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 24.

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. AR 10. On December 14, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 6-9. This action followed.

         II.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in discounting her credibility. Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at 3. For the reasons discussed below, the Court disagrees. A. Applicable Law To determine whether a claimant's testimony about subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must engage in a two-step analysis. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035-36 (9th Cir. 2007). “First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment ‘[that] could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged pain or other symptoms alleged.'” Id. at 1036 (citation omitted). Once a claimant does so, the ALJ “may not reject a claimant's subjective complaints based solely on a lack of objective medical evidence to fully corroborate the alleged severity of pain.” Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc).

         If the claimant meets the first step and there is no affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ must provide specific, clear and convincing reasons for discrediting a claimant's complaints. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 883 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1283-84 (9th Cir. 1996)). “General findings are insufficient; rather, the ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 493 (9th Cir. 2015) (as amended) (citation omitted). The ALJ may consider, among other factors, a claimant's reputation for truthfulness, inconsistencies either in her testimony or between her testimony and her conduct, unexplained or inadequately explained failure to seek treatment or follow a prescribed course of treatment, her work record, and her daily activities. Light v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d 789, 792 (9th Cir. 1997) (as amended); Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1283-84 & n.8. If the ALJ's credibility finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record, the reviewing court “may not engage in second-guessing.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002). B. Relevant Facts 1. Plaintiff's Medical Records In September and December 2009, a provider noted that Plaintiff's depression was “stable.” AR 377-78. In October 2010, a provider noted that Plaintiff had been “stable on Prozac for some time” and “feels well.”[2] AR 414. He refilled her medication. Id.

         In December 2010, psychologist Aparna Dixit examined Plaintiff at the Social Security Administration's request. AR 401-05. Plaintiff reported that she suffered from “a lot of anxiety, ” did not like to be around people because of her depression, and suffered from spinal stenosis and could not lift heavy things. AR 401-02. Dr. Dixit observed that Plaintiff was alert and oriented, her speech was clear and coherent, her thought process was linear, her thought content was logical, and her insight and judgment was intact. AR 402. Plaintiff's affect was appropriate and congruent with her mood, which was “mildly depressed.” Id. Throughout the examination, Plaintiff worked with a normal pace and demonstrated adequate persistence. Id.

         Based on Plaintiff's clinical presentation, her reported history, and the results of psychological testing, Dr. Dixit diagnosed major depressive disorder and found that Plaintiff's psychiatric symptoms were partially controlled by medication. AR 404. Dr. Dixit opined that Plaintiff had no impairment in her ability to follow and remember simple instructions, maintain pace or persistence for one- or two-step simple repetitive tasks, and communicate effectively with others verbally and through writing. AR 404-05. Dr. Dixit opined that Plaintiff was mildly impaired in her ability to follow and remember complex or detailed instructions, maintain adequate pace and persistence for complex tasks, maintain adequate attention and concentration, adapt to changes in routine, withstand the stress of a normal workday, maintain emotional stability, and interact appropriately with coworkers, supervisors, and the public. Id. Dr. Dixit opined that Plaintiff had mild to moderate difficulty performing tasks requiring mathematics skills. AR 405.

         Also in December 2010, Dr. Frank Chen examined Plaintiff at the Social Security Administration's request. AR 406-07. Dr. Chen noted that Plaintiff “stated that she does not have any specific physical complaints or medical conditions” but she reported a history of anxiety and depression. AR 406. A complete physical examination rendered only normal results. AR 407.

         In January 2011, a provider noted that Plaintiff had depression and was “on Prozac.” AR 413. In February 2011, a provider noted that Plaintiff had had a panic attack over the weekend and had been “more depressed on Sunday.” AR 449. He increased her Prozac and prescribed Ativan for panic attacks.[3]Id. Later that month, Plaintiff's provider wrote a letter “[t]o whom it may concern, ” noting that he had been treating Plaintiff for ...


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