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Andrews v. Astrue

January 6, 2009

LOLITA ANDREWS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer T. Lum United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER PROCEEDINGS

On February 21, 2008, Lolita Andrews ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. On June 30, 2008, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant"), filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. On July 28, 2008, plaintiff filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. Thereafter, on August 27, 2008, defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint. On October 30, 2008, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation.

The matter is now ready for decision.

BACKGROUND

On April 22, 1999, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits with a protective filing date of April 8, 1999.*fn1 (Administrative Record ["AR"] at 180-83). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for benefits initially, upon reconsideration and at the hearing level in a decision dated October 3, 2001. (AR at 165-68, 171-74, 17-23). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's timely request for review. (AR at 7-8). Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court. On August 20, 2003, the district court remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR at 363-79). The district court determined that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to make the required findings regarding the functional demands of plaintiff's past relevant work as a cafeteria worker, cashier and teacher's aide. (AR at 367-71). The district court also found that the ALJ improperly discounted plaintiff's credibility. (AR at 372-78).

The ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing on March 10, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (AR at 578-623). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel and testified. (AR at 589-618; 620-21). Randi Langford-Hetrick, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing and testified. (AR at 619-20). On October 4, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits to plaintiff. (AR at 333-42). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had no severe mental or physical impairments. (AR at 341). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's statements concerning the impact of her impairments on her ability to work were not credible given her conservative medical treatment, the lack of objective findings supporting her allegations, her inconsistent and vague testimony regarding her history of drug and alcohol abuse and her criminal history, and her daily activities. (AR at 340-41). Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court. On November 29, 2006, the district court remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR at 661-673A). The district court found that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the severity of plaintiff's mental impairment or impairments because the ALJ improperly removed the impact of plaintiff's alcoholism/drug abuse upon plaintiff's functional capacity before performing the sequential evaluation. (AR at 668-72).

On November 13, 2007, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing in Los Angeles, California. (AR at 881-906). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel and testified. (AR at 886-902). Plaintiff testified that she worked as a cashier for about a month in 1993. (AR at 886). Plaintiff testified that she stood while working and had to sit down because of lightheadedness and paralysis. (AR at 886-87). Plaintiff also testified that she was not able to function at the pace that was required of her or perform the duties that were asked of her. (Id.). Sandra Schneider, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR at 902-06). The vocational expert classified plaintiff's past relevant work as Cashier II, Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT")*fn2 Number 211.462-010, and testified that one month on the job was sufficient for plaintiff to learn the requirements of the job. (AR at 903).

On December 10, 2007, the ALJ issued a third decision denying benefits to plaintiff. (AR at 627-40). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depression and alcohol and drug abuse. (AR at 631). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's conditions did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. (AR at 639). The ALJ determined that plaintiff was moderately limited in the ability to understand and perform complex tasks and had moderate limitations in her ability to maintain attention and concentration. (Id.). The ALJ noted that plaintiff's depression responded well to psychotropic medications and psychotherapy. With regard to plaintiff's physical conditions, the ALJ noted that plaintiff had mild to moderate back and joint pains which were well-controlled by medication; normal blood pressure with the use of anti-hypertension medication; and that plaintiff failed to provide substantial evidence that she was significantly affected by a seizure problem. (AR at 639). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's retained the functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (AR at 639-40). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR at 640).

Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court.

PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTIONS

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

1. The ALJ failed to make specific findings in support of his determination that plaintiff could return to her past relevant work as a cashier.

2. The ALJ failed to properly consider the severity of plaintiff's ...


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