United States District Court, C.D. California
INTENDED FOR PUBLICATION
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JAY C. GANDHI JUDGE
Manuel Mendoza, III ("Plaintiff) challenges the Social
Security Commissioner's decision denying his applications
for disability benefits. Plaintiff contends that the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by
improperly assessing his credibility. (See Joint
Stip. at 4-5, 15-18.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff for the
reasons discussed below.
The ALJ Improperly Assessed Plaintiffs Credibility
rule, absent a finding of malingering, an ALJ can reject a
claimant's subjective complaints by "expressing
clear and convincing reasons for doing so" supported by
substantial evidence. Benton ex rel Benton v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1040 (9th Cir. 2003);
Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 489, 492-93
(9th Cir. 2015).
however, the ALJ issued a general finding that failed to (1)
identify what testimony he found not credible, and (2) tie that
testimony to the evidence he believed undermined Plaintiffs
complaints. (See Administrative Record
("AR") at 18-20); Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d
at 493 ("General findings are insufficient; rather, the
ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what
evidence undermines the claimant's complaints."
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
the ALJ's treatment finding - that Plaintiff
"may" have exaggerated his symptoms because he was
treated conservatively with medication monitoring - also
lacks sufficient specificity. (AR at 20); see
Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 493; Henshaw v.
Colvin, 2016 WL 541408, at * 10 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 11,
2016) ("[T]he ALJ must explain what statements were not
credible and link those statements to the evidence of
successful treatment of [claimant's] conditions through
the ALJ's finding that Plaintiffs credibility was
diminished by the objective evidence of record, followed
simply by a summary of some of the medical evidence, is
insufficient. (AR at 18-20); see Brown-Hunter, 806
F.3d at 494 II (credibility determination is insufficient
when ALJ "simply state[s] [his] non- | credibility
conclusion and then summarize[s] the medical evidence").
event, the purported lack of objective medical evidence
supporting Plaintiffs complaints cannot, by itself, support
the credibility determination. (AR at 18, 20); seeRollins
v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001) (lack of
objective medical evidence supporting claimant's symptoms
and limitations cannot, by itself, support a credibility
finding); Dschaak v. Astrue, 2011 WL 4498835, at * 1
(D. Or. Sept. 27, 2011) ("[O]nce the other bases for
the ALJ's decision were discarded as erroneous, the
ALJ's credibility determination could not rely solely on
conflicts with the medical evidence.").
the ALJ improperly assessed Plaintiffs credibility.
Remand is Warranted
error established, this Court has discretion to remand or
reverse and award benefits. McAllister v. Sullivan,
888 F.2d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 1989). Where no useful purpose
would be served by further proceedings, or where the record
has been fully developed, it is appropriate to direct an
immediate award of benefits. Benecke v. Barnhart,
379 F.3d 587, 595-96 (9th Cir. 2004). But where outstanding
issues must be resolved before a determination can be made,
or where the record does not make clear that proper
evaluation of the evidence would require a disability
finding, remand is appropriate. Id. at 594.
in light of the error, the ALJ shall reconsider Plaintiffs
subjective complaints and the resulting functional
limitations, and either credit his testimony or provide clear
and convincing reasons, supported by substantial evidence,
for rejecting it. See Benton, 331 F.3d at 1040.
Further, if the ALJ rejects Plaintiffs allegations, he must
specifically identify what testimony is not credible, and
what evidence undermines his complaints. See
Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 493.
the Court is mindful that "the touchstone for an award
of benefits is the II existence of a disability, not the
agency's legal error." Brown-Hunter, 806
F.3d at 495. I Because it is unclear, on this record, whether
Plaintiff is in fact disabled, remand here I is on an
"open record." Id.; Burrell v. Colvin, 775
F.3d 1133, 1141-42 (9th Cir. 2014). Given the necessity of
remand, the parties may freely take up all issues raised in
the Corrected Joint Stipulation, and any other issues
relevant to ...