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Acevedo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 1, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In accordance with the Court's case management order, the parties have filed memorandum briefs addressing the merits of the disputed issue. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         In February 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging that she became disabled and unable to work on June 1, 2007. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on May 4, 2015, at which Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert were present. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 115-137.) In a July 14, 2015 written decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: morbid obesity; diabetes mellitus; degenerative joint disease; and renal insufficiency. (AR 103.) Nevertheless, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a restricted range of sedentary work. After concluding that Plaintiff's RFC did not preclude her from performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled at any time from June 1, 2007 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 101-110.)


         The sole disputed issue is whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints.


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for discrediting her subjective testimony about her symptoms and limitations. (ECF No. 21 at 4). Plaintiff's claim is based upon statements included in her March 2013 function report as well as her testimony at the hearing.

         According to Plaintiff's function report, Plaintiff stayed in her pajamas all day unless she had to go somewhere. Plaintiff bathed once a month for fear of falling; could walk less than a block without needing to rest; was unable to stand “for a long period of time”; and needed reminders to take her medication. (AR 326-328, 331.) Plaintiff reported experiencing difficulty lifting, squatting, bending, reaching, walking, kneeling, stair climbing and completing tasks. (AR 331.) Plaintiff was able to do laundry once a week. (AR 328.) At the time she completed the form (2013), Plaintiff took care of her two grandchildren while her daughter worked. As part of this job, Plaintiff drove one granddaughter to and from preschool. (AR 327.)

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that her days consisted of waking up, going to the living room to watch TV, then going back to sleep. She never walked outside because she was afraid of falling. She spent all day lying down because it was the most comfortable position. (AR 128-130.) Plaintiff was able to dress and groom herself, but it took “a while.” (AR 131.) She was unable to grocery shop or do errands. (AR 129.) Plaintiff testified that she did not drive, but it is not clear whether she attributed this to a physical limitation or to a “financial issue.” (AR 131 (Plaintiff's testimony that she did not renew her driver's license because she had unpaid tickets).)

         Where, as here, a claimant has presented evidence of an underlying impairment and the record is devoid of affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ's reasons for rejecting the claimant's subjective symptom statements must be “specific, clear and convincing.” Burrell v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012)). “General findings [regarding a claimant's credibility] are insufficient; rather, the ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.” Burrell, 775 F.3d at 1138 (quoting Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834) (9th Cir. 1995)). The ALJ's findings “must be sufficiently specific to allow a reviewing court to conclude the adjudicator rejected the claimant's testimony on permissible grounds and did not arbitrarily discredit a claimant's testimony regarding pain.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 493 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 345-46 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc)). An ALJ may consider a variety of factors ordinarily used in assessing credibility, including inconsistencies within the claimant's testimony or between the claimant's testimony and the claimant's conduct, the claimant's work record, and information from physicians, relatives, or friends concerning the nature, severity, and effect of the claimant's symptoms. See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2002). Light v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d 789, 792 (9th Cir.1997); Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604 n.5 (9th Cir. 1989).

         Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from medically determinable impairments that could reasonably be expected to produce Plaintiff's pain or other alleged symptoms, but determined that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were not entirely credible. (AR 107.) Nevertheless, the ALJ partially credited Plaintiff's testimony by finding she was able to perform a limited range of sedentary work precluding her past work, rejecting the medical opinions ...

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