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Bentley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 5, 2017

KAREN LEIGH BENTLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

         Karen Leigh Bentley (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability benefits. Two issues are presented for decision here:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility (see Corrected Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) at 10-12, 15-16); and
2. Whether the ALJ properly assessed the consultative examining physician's opinion (see id. at 2-7, 10).

         The Court addresses Plaintiff's contentions below, and finds that reversal is not warranted.[2]

         A. The ALJ Provided Clear and Convincing Reasons for Discounting Plaintiff's Credibility, and Any Error Was Harmless

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly assessed her credibility.[3] (See Joint Stip. at 10-12, 15-16.)

         As a rule, 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 a claimant's complaints.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 493 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, the ALJ provided at least three valid reasons for discounting Plaintiff's credibility.

         First, Plaintiff's treatment history was intermittent, and she had no recent mental health care.[4] (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 27); see Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1173 n.2 (9th Cir. 2015) (ALJ properly considered treatment gap in assessing claimant's credibility); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 681 (9th Cir. 2005) (ALJ properly relied on three- to four- month treatment gap in partially discrediting claimant's testimony).

         Second, Plaintiff did not follow through with recommendations from the Department of Public Social Services for further treatment. (AR at 27, 461-63); see Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 113-14 (9th Cir. 2012) (ALJ did not err by discounting testimony based on failure to follow prescribed treatment, including advice to seek counseling); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1530(a), 416.930(a) (claimant must “follow treatment prescribed by [her] physician if this treatment can restore [her] ability to work”).

         Third, Plaintiff was uncooperative with the minimal treatment she received from Dr. Pamela Pine. (AR at 27, 465 (Dr. Pine's notation that she saw Plaintiff only four times in 2003, and that she refused to fill out paperwork), 467)[5]; Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 587 F. App'x 367, 370 (9th Cir. 2014) (credibility determination supported by substantial evidence in part because claimant was uncooperative with medical professionals and unwilling to comply with prescribed treatment).

         The Court, however, agrees with Plaintiff that the ALJ improperly relied on her meager activities of daily living in discounting her testimony. (Joint Stip. at 11-12, 16; AR at 27); see Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (ALJ must make “specific findings related to [the daily] activities and their transferability to conclude that a claimant's daily activities warrant an adverse credibility determination”); Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1049-50 (9th Cir. 2001) (the mere fact that claimant “carried on certain daily activities, such as grocery shopping, driving a car, or limited walking or exercise, does not in any way detract” from credibility as to overall disability).

         However, any such error is harmless in light of the other valid reasons for rejecting the testimony.[6]See Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1162 (9th Cir. 2008) (when ALJ provides specific reasons for discounting claimant's credibility, decision may be upheld even if certain reasons were invalid as long as “remaining reasoning and ultimate credibility determination” were supported by substantial evidence (emphasis omitted)); Strutz v. Colvin, 2015 WL 4727459, at ...


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