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Denise Z. v. Saul

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

November 4, 2019

DENISE Z., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS F. MCCORMICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Denise Z. (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the final decision of the Social Security Commissioner denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.

         I.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on September 2, 2014, alleging disability beginning November 11, 2011. See Dkt. 16, Administrative Record (“AR”) 170-82. Plaintiff's initial application was denied on February 5, 2015. See AR 106-10. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ on March 5, 2015. See AR 116-17. Plaintiff attended the hearing on August 16, 2016, AR 31, and the ALJ denied her claim. AR 12-13. The Appeals Council declined review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1. This action followed.

         II.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         The parties dispute whether the ALJ: (1) properly determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”); (2) properly rejected the medical opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician; and (3) properly discounted Plaintiff's testimony about her limitations. See Joint Stipulation (Dkt. 29; “JS”) at 4. The Court will address the parties' arguments in a different order.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Symptom Testimony

         The Court engages in a two-step analysis to review the ALJ's evaluation of a claimant's symptom testimony. “First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1014 (9th Cir 2014) (citation omitted). “If the claimant satisfies the first step of this analysis, and there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of her symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Id. at 1014-15 (citation omitted).

         Plaintiff testified about a range of symptoms caused by her impairments. On an average day, the pain she feels is about a five and on some days her pain is a ten, bad enough she stays in bed or goes to the emergency room. See AR 55-57. On an average day, she can sit for twenty minutes, stand for twenty-five minutes, walk half a block, and lift ten pounds. See AR 58. She has trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep, taking on average three hours a night to fall asleep and waking up five times a night. See AR 57. She averages five hours of restful sleep a night. See AR 57. Finally, due to side effects from her medication, Plaintiff gets drowsy and has blurred vision. See AR 58.

         The ALJ identified three reasons for discounting Plaintiff's testimony. First, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff's testimony was not entirely consistent with the medical evidence. See AR 21. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff's activities of daily living were not consistent with her testimony. See id. Finally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had not received any recent treatment for some of the impairments she described as causing her symptoms. See id.

         As for the objective medical evidence, the ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's MRI results and the consulting examiner's findings about Plaintiff's back condition. See AR 20. The ALJ also reviewed the examiner's findings about Plaintiff's wrist limitations related to her history of carpal tunnel syndrome. See id. These findings support the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff's medical evidence was not consistent with her testimony. And while a lack of objective medical evidence may not be the sole reason for discounting a ...


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