United States District Court, C.D. California
MARIA L. GUZMAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Maria L. Guzman ("Plaintiff") brings this action
seeking to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (hereinafter the
"Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying
her application for disability benefits. The parties
consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. For the reasons stated oelow, the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
4, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") (Administrative Record
("AR") 136) claiming that she became disabled on
January 31, 2010. (AR 141). The Agency denied Plaintiff's
application (AR 82-83) and she submitted a request for
reconsideration on October 31, 2012. (AR 99). The Agency
denied Plaintiff's reconsideration application on March
13, 2013. (AR 92) . On April 26, 2013, Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge. (AR 107) . A
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") Mark Greenberg on November 26, 2013. (AR
50). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR
50-75). Gloria Lasoff, an impartial vocational expert, also
testified at the hearing. (AR 64-75) . On December 6, 2013,
the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits. (AR 6-24) . On
January 10, 2014, Plaintiff requested review before the
Appeals Council. (AR 5). On February 23, 2105, the Appeals
Council denied the request for review. (AR 1-4) . On April
30, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Dkt. No.) 1).
November 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Support of
Plaintiff's Complaint ("MSC"). (Dkt. No. 19).
On February 4, 2016, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support
of Defendant's Answer ("MDA"). (Dkt. No. 24).
On February 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed Reply in Support of
Plaintiff's Complaint. (Dkt. No. 25).
was born on January 13, 1960. (AR 53). Plaintiff is single,
the mother of three adult sons and has three grandchildren.
(AR 61-62, 137) . Plaintiff is a high school graduate and was
previously employed as a child care director at World's
Gym from 1994 until 2001, and as a nanny from
until January 31, 2010. (AR 53, 161) . On May 5, 2004,
Plaintiff signed a "Compromise and Release"
agreement regarding a Workers' Compensation claim against
the gym where she worked. (AR 126-35) . With regard to this
agreement, Plaintiff alleged injuries to her "head, left
shoulder and psych. [sic] ." (AR 126) . The gym disputed
these allegations, noting that evidence of these injuries was
lacking from Plaintiff's various medical evaluations. (AR
131). Nevertheless, the parties settled the dispute and
Plaintiff received a lump sum payment. (AR 126).
testified that she was laid off from her nanny position on
January 31, 2010 because "the economy got bad." (AR
54). January 31, 2010 is also the date Plaintiff identifies
as the onset date of her disability. (AR 53, 154) . Plaintiff
testified that she "most likely" could have
continued performing her nanny duties had she not been laid
off, but that the progression of her symptoms would prevent
her from presently performing those duties. (AR 54) .
Plaintiff testified that she experiences pain, stiffness,
tingling in her extremities and other physical symptoms. (AR
54-55) . On June 20, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in an auto
accident that allegedly exacerbated her physical symptoms.
(AR 59, 264).
Plaintiffs Medical History
November 28, 2011, Plaintiff was evaluated via diagnostic
imaging for pain in the cervical, lumbar and thoracic spine.
(AR 253-55). Imaging of Plaintiff's cervical spine
revealed "loss of the normal lordosis consistent with
muscle spasm, " "2mm of spondylolisthesis of C4 on
[illegible], " but that the "height of the
vertebral bodies is maintained, " and "no
significant degenerative changes" were seen. (AR 253) .
Imaging of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed "[m]ild
narrowing at L4/5, " normal spinal alignment, and
"no other significant degenerative changes." (AR
254). Imaging of Plaintiff's thoracic spine revealed
"[d]egenerative changes at the upper and mid-thoracic
levels, " normal spinal alignment, and that the
"height of the vertebral bodies is maintained." (AR
December 28, 2011, Plaintiff's physician, Dr. Gita
Tavassoli, examined Plaintiff. (AR 215-16). During this
examination, Plaintiff rated the pain in her lower back
"7" out of ten. (AR 215) . Dr. Tavassoli noted
normal curvature of Plaintiff's spine and full range of
motion in her neck and back. (AR 215). Dr. Tavassoli noted
that the "[patient] wants to [illegible] lawyer work[er]
compensation case." (AR 216) . On May 6, 2012, Dr.
Tavassoli again examined Plaintiff. (AR 201-03) . During this
examination, Plaintiff described her pain symptoms as
"severe" with aggravating factors including
"[l]ifting . . . and [t]wisting, " with relief
provided by "[h]eat/[c]old and [r]est." (AR 201).
Dr. Tavassoli noted "[n]ormal range of motion, muscle
strength and stability in all extremities with no pain on
inspection." (AR 202).
Plaintiff's car accident on June 20, 2012, Plaintiff
began a series of chiropractic procedures with Barry I.
Nelson, a chiropractor, beginning on June 22, 2012 and ending
on September 6, 2012. (AR 318-28). At the outset of these
procedures, Plaintiff complained of "constant[, ]
sharp[, ] severe" neck and lower back pain. (AR 323).
Dr. Nelson noted "[p]atient states the . . . symptoms
are directly attributable to the auto acc[ident] ." (AR
323) . When Plaintiff was asked if she noticed any
"activity restrictions as a result of this injury,
" she replied "[y]es" and described the
restrictions as " [e] verything." (AR 328) . On
August 17, 2012, Dr. Nelson completed a "Disability
Slip, " which indicated that Plaintiff was under his
professional care, and had been placed on disability from
"6/20/12 to 9/20/12." (AR 264).
August 30, 2012, Dr. Tavassoli ordered that Plaintiff undergo
a series of MRIs to evaluate her lower back pain and
radiculopathy. (AR 271-74). The summary report indicated no
loss of disc height or bulging of disc material at levels
L2-L5, and that "vertebral heights are well
maintained." (AR 271). Imaging of Plaintiff's lumbar
spine revealed "4mm of rightward bulging of disc
material at Ll-2" and "facet hypertrophy ... at
L3-4 and L4-5 and to a lesser extent Ll-2." (AR 272).
Imaging of Plaintiff's thoracic spine was
"unremarkable." (AR 273) . Imaging of
Plaintiff's cervical spine revealed "less than 2mm
of concentric bulging of the T2-3 disc, " and
"questionable minimal atrophy and encephalomalacia of
the spinal cord posterior to C7 and Tl." (AR 274). On
October 4, 2012, Dr. Tavassoli again examined Plaintiff. (AR
280-82). During this examination, Plaintiff described her
pain level as "8" out of ten. (AR 280). Dr.
Tavassoli noted the worsening of Plaintiff's pain and
referred her to a spine clinic. (AR 281) . At a follow-up
examination on October 30, 2012, Plaintiff described her pain
as a "9" out of ten. (AR 290).
November 13, 2012, Dennis Cramer, who appears to be a doctor
of osteopathic medicine (AR 339), examined Plaintiff. (AR
337-39) . Dr. Cramer noted Plaintiff's discomfort while
walking and difficulty getting onto the examining table. (AR
338). However, muscle strength in Plaintiff's arms and
legs were "5/5." (AR 337-38) . Dr. Cramer
recommended a series of three epidural injections to combat
Plaintiff's reported pain. (AR 339). Dr. Cramer's
overall medical impression was "L4 to SI degenerative
disc disease" and "[r]ight lower extremity
radiculopathy." (AR 339).
March 3, 2013, Plaintiff began a series of three epidural
steroid injections which concluded on April 14, 2013. (AR
413-15) . Plaintiff reported temporary pain relief due to
these injections. (AR 413) . On May 3, 2013, Dr. Cramer
examined Plaintiff as a follow-up to the injections. (AR 336)
. During this examination, Dr. Cramer noted "minor
degenerative changes, " with "no high-grade
stenosis." (AR 336) . Plaintiff's physical exam
revealed "5/5 strength" in her extremities, normal
reflexes and normal gait. (AR 336) . Dr. Cramer explained to
Plaintiff that "overall body pain" was
"difficult to treat" and that her symptoms were
consistent with fibromyalgia. (AR 336).
30, 2013, unknown persons evaluated Plaintiff at the
"Center for Orthopaedic and Sport Excellence." (AR
341-53) . This evaluation yielded results that are difficult
to decipher. (AR 349-53) . Plaintiff indicated that
housework, prolonged sitting and "any activity"
worsens her pain. (AR 345). Plaintiff noted that her back and
neck pain was "worse" than it was thirteen months
prior. (AR 345) . Notes from the evaluation reveal that
Plaintiff continued to work for three years after the 2001
injury she sustained at World's Gym. (AR 346) . Notes
also appear to indicate that pain from that injury was
"resolved, " and that Plaintiff was "currently
applying for TTD." (AR 34 6).
October 2, 2013, Plaintiff underwent diagnostic imaging of
hei lumbar spine, thoracic spine and cervical spine. (AR
375-81) . Imagine of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed
"exaggerated lumbar lordosis, ' "facet
sclerosis and hypertrophy at L5-S1 bilaterally, " and
well-maintained vertebral body heights and disc spaces. (AR
375). Imagine of Plaintiff's thoracic spine revealed
"minimal spondylosis" anc "minimal superior
thoracic spine levoscoliosis." (AR 376) . Imagine of
Plaintiff's cervical spine revealed "mild
degenerative facet sclerosis" and "hypertrophy from
C3 through 7 bilaterally which appears progressive since
11/28/2011." (AR 380).
Vocational Expert Testimony
Expert ("VE") Gloria Lasoff testified regarding the
existence of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perforn given her physical limitations. (AR 64-74) .
The VE testified that an individual with Plaintiff's age,
education, experience and physical limitations would be able
to perform light, unskilled work as a countei clerk. (AR
69-71) . The VE noted that someone can be "off
task" ir such a job roughly five percent of the time and
still maintair employment in that position. (AR 72) . The VE