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McCoy v. Astrue

June 12, 2009

CAROLYN MCCOY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Carolyn McCoy ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (hereinafter the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation ("Jt. Stip.") filed on April 15, 2009. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Initial Application

On March 20, 2002, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record ("AR") 73-75). Plaintiff claimed disability resulting from blood clots, pulmonary embolism, swollen legs, shortness of breath and chest pains. (AR 79). Plaintiff stated that the disability began on August 29, 1990. (AR 73).

The Agency denied Plaintiff's application. (AR 47-50). Plaintiff sought a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (AR 51). A hearing was held before ALJ Zane A. Lang on November 19, 2002. (AR 21-45). On February 19, 2003, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 9-19). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. (AR 7). On June 5, 2003, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 4-6).

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Central District of California seeking review of the decision. On December 8, 2003, the parties stipulated to a remand that required the ALJ to clarify his findings in regard to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC").*fn1 (AR 280-281). The parties also stipulated that the ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons if the new decision did not adopt the treating physician's opinion. (AR 280-81).

B. Rehearings And Instant Complaint

Accordingly, the ALJ held hearings on May 10, 2005 (AR 627-37), and on November 2, 2005. (AR 580-604). On February 14, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 468-83). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. (AR 494-95). The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision because he relied upon the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") from the 2002 hearing in calculating Plaintiff's RFC. (AR 504). The Appeals Council remanded for a new hearing. (AR 507-8).

On April 9, 2008, Plaintiff's hearing went forward before ALJ Alexander Weir III. (AR 605-26). ALJ Weir also found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (AR 276-78). On June 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed the present action.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Generally

Plaintiff was born on February 2, 1960, and was forty-two years old when she filed for disability benefits. (AR 220). Plaintiff has a twelfth grade education,*fn2 but never graduated or received a GED. (AR 619). Plaintiff has never worked. (AR 617).

B. Relevant Medical History

1. Treating Physician

Plaintiff's treating physician at the time of the hearings was Elizabeth J. Covington, M.D. (AR 174, 576). In an undated Medical Provider Evaluation ("MPE") form, Dr. Covington diagnosed Plaintiff with deep vein thrombosis*fn3 ("DVT"), morbid obesity and thyroid dysfunction. (AR 390). Dr. Covington assessed Plaintiff as temporarily disabled with a projected recovery date of July 16, 1999. (Id.). In a MPE form dated February 23, 2000, Dr. Covington diagnosed Plaintiff with morbid obesity and thyroid dysfunction. (AR 247, 389). Dr. Covington, in contrast to her earlier finding, now classified Plaintiff as permanently disabled. (AR 247, 389). In a subsequent undated form, Dr. Covington diagnosed Plaintiff with chronic thrombophlebitis*fn4 , osteoarthritis, morbid obesity and thyroid dysfunction. (AR 230). However, Dr. Covington, again changing her opinion, found that Plaintiff was temporarily disabled and listed April 15, 2002 as the projected recovery date. (AR 230). Plaintiff underwent an echocardiogram on June 4, 2001. (AR 186-87). The study revealed the left atrium to be at the upper limits of "normal," and found trace mitral regurgitation. (AR 186-87). The left ventricular ejection fraction was 64% and the left ventricular wall motion was normal. (AR 186). A chest X-ray taken on June 14, 2001 showed an infiltrate over the left lower lobe and moderate cardiomegaly with changes suggesting hypertension and hilar calcifications. (AR 183).

On July 10, 2001, Dr. Covington referred Plaintiff to pulmonary specialist Sucha Kim, M.D. (AR 180). Dr. Kim diagnosed Plaintiff with purulent sputum, possible bronchitis, and airway inflammation. (AR 168-71). On August 30, 2001, Dr. Covington completed a form allowing Plaintiff to receive a disabled identification card from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. (AR 221). Dr. Covington listed Plaintiff's conditions as morbid obesity, thyroid dysfunction, status post thrombophlebitis, status post DVT and inferior vena cava filter. (Id.).

In a subsequent undated MPE form, Dr. Covington diagnosed Plaintiff with chronic thrombophlebitis, osteoarthritis, morbid obesity and thyroid dysfunction. (AR 223). Dr. Covington listed Plaintiff as temporarily disabled with a projected recovery date of August 2002. (AR 223). In an MPE form dated October 17, 2002, Dr. Covington expressed the view that Plaintiff could do light or sedentary work, but only for twenty hours a week. (AR 222, 272). An EKG on November 5, 2002 indicated atrial fibrillation*fn5 and a nonspecific T wave abnormality. (AR 256). On February 10, 2003, Dr. Covington referred Plaintiff to cardiologist Ruth Strauss, M.D. (AR 438-42). Dr. Strauss listed DVT and hypertension for Plaintiff's medical history. (AR 440). Plaintiff's weight was 425 pounds. (AR 439). Dr. Strauss' diagnoses were status post DVT and hypertension. (AR 439-40).

On January 7, 2004, Avena Flaherty, PA-C, completed a Physical RFC Questionnaire.*fn6 (AR 293-97). P.A. Flaherty listed Plaintiff's diagnoses as chronic thrombophlebitis, status post deep thrombosis, status post stent insertion and morbid obesity. (AR 293). She noted Plaintiff's limitations as being able to lift and carry ten pounds occasionally, less than ten pounds frequently, could stand and walk for less than two hours in an eight-hour workday and that she could sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR 294-97).

On March 3, 2005, Dr. Covington also completed a Physical RFC Questionnaire. (AR 345-49). She listed Plaintiff's diagnoses as DVT, hypothyroidism, atrial fibrillation and morbid obesity. (AR 345). She noted Plaintiff's limitations as being able to lift and carry ten pounds occasionally, lift and carry less than ten pounds frequently and being able to stand, sit, and walk less than two hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR 346-49). On March 9, 2005, Dr. Covington ordered a series of tests. (AR 375-77). An abdominal ultrasound showed multiple gallstones and a fatty liver, a lumbar spine ...


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