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Seechan v. Astrue

February 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Saeng Seechan ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


On August 30, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits. AR 65-67. He alleged disability since March 25, 2004, due to migraines, neck and back pain, respiratory distress, deafness in left ear, dizziness, weakness, vertigo, fainting spells, depression and insomnia. AR 65, 76-83. After being denied both initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 28, 35, 41-45, 48-53, 57-58. On December 29, 2006, ALJ Stephen Webster held a hearing. AR 330-346. ALJ Webster denied benefits on February 21, 2007. AR 11-22. On July 21, 2007, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 5-7, 8.

Hearing Testimony

On December 29, 2006, ALJ Webster held a hearing in Fresno, California. AR 330-346. Plaintiff appeared with his attorney, Robert Christensen, and an interpreter. AR 332. Vocational expert ("VE") Cheryl Chandler also appeared and testified. AR 332, 344-46.

In response to questions from the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that he is right handed, is married and has seven children. AR 334. He lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his son and his wife. AR 334, 344. At one time, he had a driver's license. AR 334.

Plaintiff testified that his son helps him shower, shave and get dressed by telling him what to do. AR 334-35. Plaintiff does not help with work around the house, such as laundry, cooking or dishes. AR 335. He does not do any work in the yard or the garden. AR 335. He does not watch TV. AR 335. He does not visit with friends, go to the movies or go to church or temple. AR 335. He does not read, write or speak English. AR 335. He reads or writes a little bit in "Lahua." AR 335. He has not worked for pay since August 2004. AR 336.

Plaintiff testified that he sometimes has back pain. AR 336. He has depression and trouble sleeping. AR 336. He has nightmares and hears voices. AR 336. He has problems sitting. AR 336. He sits "for a while and then pain." AR 336.

In response to questions from his legal counsel, Plaintiff testified that he worked in the past, but forgot the things that he had done. AR 337. In his work checking a mailbox, he had to lift a box. AR 337, 338. He probably lifted about 50 pounds when he was healthy. AR 338. He does not remember his glass repair work. AR 338. He probably repaired car glass in Colorado. AR 339. In his production worker job, he "put things in a little machine." AR 339. He probably made door knobs and hinges. AR 339.

Plaintiff testified that he goes to mental health because he feels depressed, has trouble sleeping and has nightmares. AR 342. He hears voices. AR 342. He also has difficulty concentrating and paying attention to things. AR 342. His medication makes a "little difference" AR 342.

Plaintiff testified that he also has dizziness. AR 343. He has blackouts and falls. AR 343. He gets between three and six blackouts a month. AR 343. When he wakes up, he lies on the bed. AR 343. The blackouts can happen any time. AR 343. He is getting worse. AR 344.

VE Cheryl Chandler also testified. AR 344. She reported that Plaintiff did not have any skills that would transfer to other work. AR 344.

For the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume a person of Plaintiff's age, education and work history. AR 344. This person also had no exertional or postural limitations, but due to dizziness should not work at heights or around dangerous machinery and should not drive. AR 344. The VE testified that Plaintiff's past relevant work as a mail box checker would fit within the hypothetical. AR 345.

For the second hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume the same factors as in the first hypothetical. AR 345. This person would not be able to sustain focused attention and concentration long enough to complete routine work-related tasks in a timely and appropriate way. AR 345. The VE testified that such a person could not do any of the Plaintiff's past relevant work or any other work in the regional or national economy. AR 345.

Medical Evidence

On February 23, 2003, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment at Tulare District Hospital for complaints of brief episodes of dizziness. AR 211-14. He was diagnosed with dizziness, lightheadedness and bronchitis. AR 213.

On September 18, 2003, Plaintiff sought emergency department services at Kaweah Delta Health Care District following a motor vehicle accident. AR 146-155. Plaintiff was diagnosed with cervical strain and a contusion to the left chest wall. AR 147, 151.

On December 30, 2003, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment at Tulare District Hospital for complaints of dizziness and a fast heartbeat. AR 203-04. On physical examination, Plaintiff had an irregular rhythm. AR 205. He was diagnosed with premature atrial contractions. AR 206.

On February 2, 2004, Plaintiff sought treatment from Harish Shah, M.D., at the Hillman Health Clinic. AR 244-45. Plaintiff reported a history of dizziness and blackouts. AR 244. Dr. Shah reported a doubtful history of loss of consciousness. AR 244. Plaintiff had no history of headaches, vomiting, weakness, difficulty reading or writing, difficulty seeing long distance, tinnitus, bladder or bowel problems, seizures, chest pains, shortness of breath, wheezing, fever, cough or abdominal pain. AR 244. Dr. Shah assessed Plaintiff with dizziness and recommended an MRI and an EEG, along with other testing. AR 244. Plaintiff was prescribed Antivert for dizziness. AR 245.

A chest x-ray on February 3, 2004, revealed no active pulmonary disease. AR 246.

An EEG on February 17, 2004, was normal. AR 200. An MRI revealed acute sinusitis changes in the left maxillary antrum and minimal ethmoid disease, but was otherwise negative. AR 201. A cardiac echo doppler study on February 20, 2004, showed no significant heart disease except for mild mitral, tricuspid and pulmonic regurgitation. AR 202.

On March 31, 2004, Plaintiff saw Wilbur Suesberry, M.D., in the ENT clinic. AR 241. Plaintiff complained of dizziness for two years. AR 241. Dr. Suesberry diagnosed Plaintiff with vertigo of an undetermined etiology. AR 241. Dr. Suesberry opined that he was "not certain [Plaintiff] truly has vertigo because he states that at times when he's sitting down he gets a sensation of movement and suddenly blanks out for two to three minutes." AR 241. Dr. Suesberry recommended that Plaintiff continue taking Antivert. AR 241.

On April 21, 2004, Plaintiff saw Truc Nguyen, M.D., at Hillman Health Care Center. AR 240. Plaintiff reportedly was still dizzy, but better. AR 240. Dr. Nguyen assessed Plaintiff with "[d]izziness, improved" and a history of precordia. AR 240. Plaintiff was to continue taking meclizine. AR 240.

On July 27, 2004, Plaintiff again saw Dr. Nguyen for complaints of dizziness. AR 238. Dr. Nguyen opined that Plaintiff's dizziness seemed improved. AR 238. An x-ray suggested sinusitis. AR 237.

On September 13, 2004, Plaintiff sought treatment from Dr. Nguyen for complaints of dizziness. AR 235. Dr. Nguyen opined that they could not "find any ...

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