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Clark v. Astrue

January 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge



Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), finding that she was no longer entitled to supplemental security income as of March 29, 2004. For the reasons discussed below, the Agency's decision is REVERSED and the action is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Plaintiff was born in 1976 and was 30 years old at the time of the administrative hearings. (Administrative Record ("AR") 42, 346.)

On June 10, 1988, when Plaintiff was 12 years old, she was hit by a car and suffered injuries to her head and abdomen. (AR 211, 215.) She was in a coma for three weeks after the accident and subsequently underwent extensive rehabilitation from July 6, 1988 to September 9, 1988. (AR 244, 270.) Thereafter, she returned to school, but her performance, which had been poor before the accident, was no better after. (AR 220.) Plaintiff was forced to attend special education classes and left school after the ninth grade. (AR 346-47.)

On May 18, 1994, Dr. Roger Izzi, a consultative neuropsychologist, examined Plaintiff and determined that she was mentally retarded. (AR 275.) In a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment form completed on June 14, 1994, by another doctor, he or she determined that Plaintiff had learning difficulties, problems in maintaining attention and concentration, a verbal and performance IQ of 70, a full-scale IQ of 69, brain dysfunction, and emotional problems. (AR 76.) He or she determined that Plaintiff was not competent. That same day, the Agency determined that Plaintiff was disabled as of March 1, 1994, due to her mental deficits. (AR 80.) As a result, Plaintiff was awarded supplemental security income. (AR 80.)

On September 8, 2003, the Agency sent a letter to Plaintiff's guardian Lisa Johnson to inform her that the Agency was reviewing Plaintiff's case to determine whether she was still disabled. (AR 91-92.) On March 24, 2004, Ms. Johnson informed the Agency that she no longer had custody of Plaintiff and asked the Agency to make a decision about Plaintiff's condition based on the evidence already in the file. (AR 93.) On April 15, 2004, the Agency sent Ms. Johnson a letter informing her that Plaintiff had failed to provide certain medical information that the Agency had requested. The Agency further informed Ms. Johnson that it had determined that the evidence in Plaintiff's file was insufficient to establish that she was still disabled and, therefore, she was no longer eligible for benefits. (AR 98, 149-52.)

On April 23, 2004, Plaintiff, through Renee Aldridge, whose relationship to Plaintiff was described as "payee," asked the Agency to reconsider its decision terminating her benefits. (AR 99-108.) On April 21, 2005, the Agency affirmed its decision. It relied on a psychiatric evaluation conducted by Dr. Jason Yang, who found no evidence that Plaintiff suffered from cognitive deficits, perceptual disturbances, or delusional disorders, and that she could focus her attention adequately. It also relied on the results of physical examinations that revealed that Plaintiff had no physical limitations precluding work. (AR 153, 155-68, 161.)

On May 11, 2005, Plaintiff, through Ms. Aldridge, requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 176.) Plaintiff appeared, without representation, at a hearing on May 2, 2006. (AR 339-64.) The ALJ informed Plaintiff that she could have an attorney represent her and asked her if she wanted to obtain counsel. (AR 345-46.) Plaintiff replied, "No. Because I don't want to go through all that. I really don't want to be here because I'm hurting, but I know I had to come so --." (AR 346.) The ALJ then proceeded with the hearing.

Plaintiff subsequently testified, in response to questions from medical expert Dr. David Glassmire, that she had been taking Risperdal, an anti-psychotic medication, since 2005. (AR 350.) Plaintiff testified that the Risperdal was prescribed by a Dr. Bustros in Pasadena. (AR 350.) She also testified that she had been prescribed Lexapro, an anti-anxiety medication, by a Dr. Farley. (AR 351.) There were no treatment records from either source in the record. (AR 351-53.) After Dr. Glassmire suggested that it would be useful to obtain Plaintiff's current treatment records, the ALJ told Plaintiff that she needed to provide copies of those records within two weeks and that he would hold a supplemental hearing at that time. (AR 355, 356.)

Dr. Glassmire then testified that, based on the available records, Plaintiff did not meet or equal a Listed Impairment. (AR 357-59.) He opined that under the "B" criteria of the listings, she would have mild restrictions of activities of daily living, mild difficulties maintaining social functioning, and moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (AR 359.) Dr. Glassmire testified that Plaintiff would be limited to simple repetitive tasks that were more objective-oriented and did not require any significant abstraction, and to only occasional non-personal contact with the public and co-workers. (AR 359-60.)

When asked by the ALJ if she had any questions for Dr. Glassmire, Plaintiff responded, "I don't know what none of it mean . . . I don't understand." (AR 360.) The ALJ ...

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