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Pierce v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 27, 2014

CHRISTIAN PIERCE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES A. REDDEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christian Pierce ("Pierce") brings this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Born in 1966, Pierce is a high school graduate. He has worked in fast food. Tr. 30. On July 16, 2009, Pierce protectively filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability since July 1, 1997. Tr. 133. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After an April2011 hearing, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found him not disabled. Pierce's request for review was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

ALJ's DECISION

The ALJ found Pierce had the medically determinable severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, status post discectomy and fusion. Tr. 24.

The ALJ found that Pierce's impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 25.

The ALJ determined that Pierce retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with simple, routine, entry-level tasks. Tr. 26.

The ALJ found Pierce was not disabled and retained the ability to perform his past relevant work as a fast food worker. Tr. 30. In the alternative, the ALJ found Pierce could perform other work in the national economy such as hand packager and telemarketer. Tr. 30-31.

The medical records accurately set out Pierce's medical history as it relates to his claim for benefits. The court has carefully reviewed the extensive medical record, and the parties are familiar with it. Accordingly, the details of those medical records will be set out below only as they are relevant to the issues before the court.

DISCUSSION

Pierce contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding him not fully credible; (2) improperly weighing medical evidence; (3) failing to credit lay testimony; and (4) relying on Vocational Expert ("VE") testimony that contradicts the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"). As set out below, the court need not address every assertion.

I. Credibility

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir 1995). However, the ALJ's findings must be supported by specific, cogent reasons. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir 1998). Unless there is affirmative evidence showing that the claimant is malingering, the Commissioner's reason for rejecting the claimant's testimony must be "clear and convincing." Id. The ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints. Id. The evidence upon which the ALJ relies must be substantial. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 724. See also Holohan v. Massinari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1208 (9th Cir 2001). General findings (e.g., "record in general" indicates improvement) are an insufficient basis to support an adverse credibility determination. Reddick at 722. See also Holohan, 246 F.3d at ...


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