How Does California Plaintiff’s Testimony on Disability Affect Supplemental Security Income?

Your own testimony can influence your claim for Supplemental Security Income, which is why it is crucial to reach out to a California Supplemental Security Income attorney. In a recent district court decision involving examination of plaintiff testimony, the plaintiff sought review of a denial for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits.  She was 42 and had graduated high school. She worked as an apartment manager and claimed disability as of March 2014.

The administrative law judge had used the five-step disability evaluation process. It found she had anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue syndrome, strabismus, and fibromyalgia, but that these didn’t meet or equal the listed impairments. She could do some light work and had other abilities, but couldn’t perform past relevant work. It found that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform and that, therefore, she wasn’t disabled.

She asked the district court to review this decision. The court reasoned that where an administrative law judge decides a claimant demonstrated objective medical evidence establishing underlying impairments that could trigger the symptoms claimed and there’s no evidence of malingering, the administrative law judge could only discount the claimant’s testimony about symptom severity where he could show clear and convincing and specific substantiated reasons to do so.

In this case, the plaintiff challenged the administrative law judge’s evaluation of her physical symptom testimony, not her mental or social abilities. The administrative law judge had cited relationships with family and interactions with providers as proof she could occasionally interact with others, but the plaintiff hadn’t argued against the social restrictions set forth in the evaluation of her residual functional capacity. Her physical restrictions stopped her from keeping full time work. An administrative law judge is allowed to reject your testimony based on daily activities that counter your testimony or that meet the threshold for work skills that can be transferred.

In this case, the plaintiff’s activities didn’t constitute a clear and convincing basis to disregard her testimony. The court reasoned that medical evidence is a relevant factor when deciding how severe a claimant’s pain is and whether it’s disabling. It noted that an administrative law judge can discount testimony where a claimant’s job history suggests that there are reasons other than disability for someone’s failure to work. In this case, however, the plaintiff had consistently stuck to her claim of being disabled for years, including in a prior application.

In this case, the concluded that it was an error to discount the plaintiff’s testimony. It also noted that the administrative law judge had only given the treating doctor’s opinions some weight because they contradicted the plaintiff’s activities. The court noted that a conflict between the claimant’s activities and the provider’s opinions could provide justification for the court to reject a treating provider’s opinion. However, in this case, the plaintiff could only perform minimal activities, and they didn’t show a cognitive ability to work. Similarly, the administrative law judge had mischaracterized the record on the plaintiff’s restroom use.

The court decided that enhancement of the record would be helpful since the administrative law judge had made very few findings related to the fatigue and pain that were at the center of the plaintiff’s disability. The final decision was reversed and sent back.

It can be difficult to establish eligibility for Supplemental Security Income. Often, working with an experienced Social Security lawyer can make a difference to the outcome of your case. If you believe you may need to apply for Supplemental Security Income in Fresno, contact Peña & Bromberg, PLC at 559-439-9700 or via our online form.

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