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Corley v. Commissioner of Social Security

February 19, 2009

SHARON CORLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, who is proceeding with retained counsel, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the consent of the parties, this case is before the undersigned for final decision on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 19) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 20).

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits on January 13, 2005.*fn1 Plaintiff claims that disability began on January 13, 2005. She claims that disability is caused by a combination of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral wrist problems, foot problems, shoulder problems, and gout. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied. Following denial of reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on January 16, 2007, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Plauche F. Villere, Jr. In a February 22, 2007, decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled based on the following relevant findings:

1. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, shoulder pain, wrist pain, and foot pain;

2. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments set forth in the Listings of Impairments;

3. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can frequently balance; she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and

4. Based on application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, plaintiff is not disabled given her residual functional capacity, education, and age.

After the Appeals Council declined review on August 14, 2007, this appeal followed.

II. SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE

The certified administrative record ("CAR") contains the following evidence, summarized chronologically below:

March 5, 2005 -- Plaintiff submitted an "Exertional Daily Activities Questionnaire" form. See CAR 85-87. Plaintiff stated that she was receiving general assistance benefits and was homeless. She stated that "pain rates in lower back is every day 8 to 10" and that she cannot stand or sit for long periods of time due to pain. Specifically, plaintiff stated that she can only sit or stand for 30 minutes at a time before she experiences "pinching and pulling" pain in the lower back and both legs. She stated she could walk about two blocks with a cane, which would take her 30 minutes. She stated that she cannot climb stairs. Plaintiff stated that she could only carry up to 10 pounds.

April 14, 2005 -- Agency examining doctor Navdeep Dhaliwal, M.D., conducted an orthopedic examination and prepared a report. See CAR 113-15. Dr. Dhaliwal evaluated plaintiff for complaints of low back pain and shoulder pain. The doctor reported that plaintiff was taking the following medications for pain: Celebrex, Flexeril; Neurontin; Zantac; and Motrin. While the doctor noted that plaintiff presented at the examination with a limp, she did not have any difficulty getting on and off the examination table. Dr. Dhaliwal observed "some inconsistencies on her examination" and that plaintiff "was somewhat exaggerating her symptoms." He reported that she could walk without a cane.

On physical examination, Dr. Dhaliwal noted that plaintiff exaggerated her symptoms and was not cooperative. Plaintiff's range of shoulder and spine motion was poor and she complained of pain on straight leg raising. The doctor stated: "Her effort was poor but on encouragement she had normal strength in upper and lower extremities." He provided the following assessment:

The claimant who presented today complains of low back pain. On today's examination her symptoms are somewhat exaggerated. Her cooperation was very poor. She has loss of sensation in non-dermatomal distribution on the right leg. On encouragement she had full strength but her effort is poor. I had difficulty assessing her fully because of her poor cooperation.

Dr. Dhaliwal stated that there are "no restrictions on any lifting, postural, manipulative, or environmental limitations, just based on the examination today."

April 25, 2005 -- Agency consultative doctor George A. Jansen, M.D., submitted an assessment based on Dr. Dhaliwal's examination. See CAR 118. He stated:

ALJ 10-21-04 provides RFC for light. The current decision is not non-severe, based upon the absence of objective physical findings to support exertional restrictions, or functional, manipulative, and environmental restrictions. Claimant's credibility is tainted by her performance at CE. (emphasis in original).

May 2005 -- The record contains treatment records from Sacramento Primary Care for various dates in May 2005. See CAR 119-22. These records are largely illegible. While plaintiff discusses other Sacramento Primary Care records, she does not provide any summary of treatment notes from May 2005 in her "Summary of Relevant Medical Evidence."

June 15, 2005 -- Dr. Jansen submitted a physical residual functional capacity assessment. See CAR 123-32. He concluded that plaintiff could: occasionally lift 20 pounds and frequently lift 10 pounds; sit, walk, and stand for six hours in an eight-hour day; and push/pull without restriction. He opined that plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but should never climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. Dr. Jansen concluded that plaintiff's ability to balance was unlimited, but that she should only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. He did not find any manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. Dr. Jansen's ultimate conclusion was that the current ". . . RFC aligns [with] ALJ decision of 10-24-04."

June 2005 through December 2005 -- The record contains additional treatment notes from Sacramento Primary care from June 2005 through the end of that year. See CAR 153-55. As with the records from May 2005, these records are largely illegible. Plaintiff does not summarize any Sacramento Primary Care records from 2005.

January 20, 2006 -- Robert A. Penman, M.D., reported on an x-ray of plaintiff's chest and hips. See CAR 151. Dr. Penman reported normal ...


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