United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
JUANITA M. LUEVANO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS F. MCCORMICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
requested review of the ALJ's decision. AR 10. On
December 14, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 6-9.
This action followed.
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).
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.” AR 414. He
refilled her medication. Id.
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
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.
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.
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.Id. Later that month,
Plaintiff's provider wrote a letter “[t]o whom it
may concern, ” noting that he had been treating
Plaintiff for ...