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Baker v. Astrue

March 31, 2009

BARBARA A. BAKER, 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 25, 2008, Barbara A. Baker ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. On March 18, 2008, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant"), filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. On March 19, 2008, plaintiff filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. Thereafter, on September 26, 2008, defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint. On February 20, 2009, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation.

The matter is now ready for decision.

BACKGROUND

On May 20, 1991, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Administrative Record ["AR"] at 28-44). Plaintiff claimed that, beginning on September 1, 1990, "heart problems" prevented her from working. (AR at 41). On July 19, 1991, the Commissioner awarded plaintiff benefits based on her congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. (AR at 45-47).

On July 14, 1997, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") informed plaintiff that her benefits would cease because it determined that plaintiff's heart condition had improved and that she was now able to work. (AR at 67-70). Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the cessation of her benefits. (AR at 71-73). The SSA denied plaintiff's request. (AR at 75-76). On May 26, 1999, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying benefits. (AR at 274-78). In his decision, the ALJ noted that plaintiff had resisted all attempts to attend the scheduled hearing and delayed the proceedings for nearly a year. (AR at 275). The ALJ further concluded that the medical record established medical improvement and that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work. (AR at 277). Thus, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's disability ceased as of February 1, 1998 and her entitlement to Supplemental Security Income benefits ceased as of April of 1998. (Id.). On March 28, 2002, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ because it was unable to locate or redevelop the evidence upon which the ALJ based his decision. (AR at 507-09). The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to provide plaintiff with a hearing and an opportunity to submit additional evidence. (AR at 508).

On July 18, 2002, the ALJ conducted a hearing in Orange, California. (AR at 532-57). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing without representation and testified. (AR at 537-46). Jocelyn Bailey, M.D., a medical expert, also appeared and testified. (AR at 546-55). On or about December 11, 2002, the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits. (AR at 19-27). In his decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff suffered from a severe impairment of congestive heart failure. (AR at 26). According to the ALJ, however, this impairment did not meet or equal any of the criteria contained in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Section 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 26). The ALJ also found plaintiff's allegations regarding her limitations not credible. (Id.). The ALJ further determined that plaintiff possessed the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work. (Id.). Ultimately, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act and ended plaintiff's eligibility for benefits on April 30, 1998. (AR at 25). On February 20, 2003, plaintiff filed a request with the Appeals Council for review of the ALJ's decision. (AR at 11). On September 14, 2005, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. (AR at 5-7).

Plaintiff appealed the matter to the district court. On November 30, 2006, the district court remanded the case and instructed the ALJ to develop the record with respect to the issue of plaintiff's medical improvement by obtaining the records of plaintiff's treating physician, Bijan Badihian, D.O. (AR at 588-98).

On August 2, 2007, the ALJ conducted a hearing in Orange, California. (See AR at 819-47). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel. (See AR at 821). Dr. Bailey, the medical expert, testified at the hearing. (AR at 822-46). On November 30, 2007, the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits to plaintiff. (AR at 561-70). The ALJ noted that in connection with the district court's remand order, the ALJ obtained the treatment records of Dr. Badihian covering the period July 2002 through September 2004, as well as the treatment records of Imad El Asmar, M.D., for the period from December 2005 through April 2007, and records from Rana A. Bahl, M.D. (AR at 564). The ALJ determined that as of February 1, 1998, plaintiff had the following medical determinable impairments: history of cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, mild low back pain, asthma, non-severe bereavement, and non-severe dysthymia. (AR at 568-69). The ALJ found that plaintiff's conditions did not meet or equal any of the impairments contained in the Listing of Impairments (see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1). The ALJ concluded that medical improvement occurred as of February 1, 1998 because, at that time, plaintiff's impairments no longer met or equaled a Listing. (AR at 569). The ALJ determined that as of February 1, 1998, plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, but retained the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work and a significant number of jobs in the national economy.(AR at 569). Specifically, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to sit for eight hours during an eight-hour workday; stand and/or walk, with normal breaks, for six hours in an eight-hour workday; lift and/or carry 25 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; bend frequently; squat and climb stairs occasionally. Plaintiff is also precluded from crawling or work involving temperature extremes or concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, and gases. (AR at 569). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's disability ended on February 1, 1998, and plaintiff had not become disabled again since that date. (Id.).

Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court.

PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTIONS

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

1. The ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinions of Bijan Badihian, D.O. and Imad El Asmar, M.D., plaintiff's treating physicians, regarding plaintiff's physical work capacity.

2. The ALJ improperly rejected the credibility of plaintiff's subjective complaints based on plaintiff's lack ...


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