Molina v. Astrue

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Disability Law
  • Date Filed: 04-02-2012
  • Case #: 10-16578
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Ikuta for the Court; Senior District Judge Kaplan; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

Where adverse credibility of a claimant’s testimony is established in determining whether the claimant is “disabled” under the Social Security Act, the same "specific, clear, and convincing reasons" for rejecting the claimant’s testimony apply with equal force to lay witness testimony conveying similar evidence. Failure to comment on such lay testimony is harmless error.

The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined Edilia Molina did not meet the Social Security Act’s definition of “disabled” and denied her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Molina appealed, arguing the ALJ “erred by giving inadequate weight to the opinions of her primary care provider [Molly Wheelwright], by improperly determining she was not credible, and by rejecting her family members’ testimony.” The Ninth Circuit found the ALJ did not err, and properly discounted Wheelwright’s opinion. As a physician’s assistant working without close supervision of a physician, Wheelwright was considered an “other source” receiving a lower level of deference than what qualified practitioners and specialists would receive as “medically acceptable sources.” As is required to discount testimony from “other sources,” the ALJ gave “several germane reasons for discounting Wheelwright’s opinion.” Second, the Court found the ALJ did not err in her credibility assessment of Molina’s testimony. The ALJ used “ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation” to determine whether objective medical evidence of impairment existed that could reasonably cause the alleged symptoms. Without evidence of “malingering,” an ALJ needs “specific, clear and convincing reasons” to reject a claimant’s testimony about the severity of her symptoms. The Court determined that Molina’s claimed inability was inconsistent with medical evidence, her daily activities, her demeanor, and her refusal of treatment, and the ALJ’s reliance upon such evidence in making the adverse credibility determination was appropriate. Third, the Court found the ALJ erred in failing to give “germane reasons” for rejecting the family’s testimony. However, this was “harmless error,” given that Molina’s and the family’s testimony described the same limitations, “and the ALJ’s reasons for rejecting Molina’s testimony apply with equal force to the lay testimony.” AFFIRMED.

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