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Stalling v. Astrue

July 22, 2009

DONNA STALLING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosalyn M. Chapman United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Donna Stalling filed a complaint on January 4, 2008, seeking review of the decision denying her application for disability benefits. On June 2, 2008, the Commissioner answered the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on August 13, 2008.

BACKGROUND

I.

On March 8, 2002, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program of Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a), claiming an inability to work since February 1, 1999, due to depression and diabetes. Certified Administrative Record ("A.R.") 13, 52-54, 63. The plaintiff's application was initially denied on May 10, 2002, and was denied again on December 31, 2003, following reconsideration. A.R. 24-27, 30-35. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Joseph Schloss ("the ALJ") on December 16, 2004. A.R. 36, 394-419. On April 7, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 9-21. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on May 18, 2005. A.R. 5-8.

On July 15, 2005, plaintiff filed her first complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability benefits, Stalling v. Astrue, EDCV 05-0610-RC ("Stalling I"),*fn1 and on March 7, 2007, this Court granted plaintiff's request for relief and remanded the matter to the Social Security Administration under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four. A.R. 451-67. The Appeals Council, in turn, remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings, A.R. 468-70, and on September 19, 2007, the ALJ held a new administrative hearing. A.R. 501-26. On October 22, 2007, the ALJ again issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled, A.R. 420-35, and this decision is before the Court for review.

II.

The plaintiff, who was born on March 10, 1965, is currently 44 years old. A.R. 52, 397. She has an eleventh-grade education and has never worked. A.R. 64, 69, 397-98, 400.

This Court, in its Stalling I decision, summarized plaintiff's relevant medical evidence,*fn2 as follows:

Between January 10, 2000, and October 9, 2003, plaintiff received mental health treatment at the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health ("SBC Dept."), where she was prescribed various medications and group therapy.

On September 30, 2000, plaintiff was diagnosed with severe recurrent major depressive disorder and her Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") was determined to be 45.*fn3

On February 7, 2001, Michael Oliver, a licensed clinical social worker, diagnosed plaintiff with recurrent moderate major depression, determined her GAF to be 50, and opined plaintiff had a "moderate" dysfunction rating due to depression, a history of drug use, and because she "can't work" and her children were taken away from her. Also on February 7, 2001, Jesse Devera, M.D., diagnosed plaintiff with recurrent moderate major depression and prescribed medication to her. [¶] On May 9, 2002, Kenneth D. Michael, M.D., a nonexamining psychiatrist, diagnosed plaintiff as having major depression, with no psychosis, and opined plaintiff has "mild" restriction in her activities of daily living, "mild-to-moderate" difficulties maintaining social functioning, "moderate" difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, and there was "insufficient evidence" to ascertain whether plaintiff experienced any episodes of decompensation. Dr. Michael further opined plaintiff is "moderately" limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions and to interact appropriately with the general public, but is otherwise not significantly limited. Between May 21 and May 30, 2003, plaintiff was involuntarily hospitalized at Community Hospital of San Bernardino ("SB Hospital"), based on her suicidal ideations. She was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, depression, and a past history of polychemical dependency, and she was determined to have a GAF of 25*fn4 upon admission and a GAF of 60 upon discharge.*fn5 [¶] On January 26, 2004, plaintiff was initially examined at the Riverside County Department of Mental Health ("RCDMH"), where she was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and began treatment. On March 16, 2004, plaintiff was involuntarily hospitalized at San Gorgino Memorial Hospital with suicidal ideations, after holding a knife to her throat. She was transferred to Riverside County Regional Medical Center ("Medical Center"), where she remained involuntarily confined until March 22, 2004. Upon admission to the Medical Center, plaintiff was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder and her GAF was determined to be 40.*fn6 Plaintiff was treated with medication, and when she was discharged, her GAF was determined to be 65.*fn7 On March 23, 2004, plaintiff was again examined at RCDMH, where she was diagnosed with recurrent moderate major depression and an unspecified psychotic disorder, and her GAF was determined to be 50. [¶] On January 13, 2005, Robin Rhodes-Campbell, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, examined plaintiff and conducted psychological testing on her. Dr. Rhodes-Campbell diagnosed plaintiff with a schizoaffective disorder, by history, determined her GAF to be 65, and concluded plaintiff was malingering. Specifically, Dr. Rhodes-Campbell found plaintiff gave a poor effort on testing, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was invalid, showing a "strong possibility" plaintiff was exaggerating or feigning psychological symptoms, the test of memory malingering showed plaintiff is likely malingering memory deficits, and the Miller Forensic Assessment of Symptoms Test indicated plaintiff was malingering psychiatric symptoms. Dr. Rhodes-Campbell concluded plaintiff should have no impairment in understanding, remembering, and carrying out short and simple or detailed instructions, making judgments on simple work-related decisions, or relating appropriately to the public, supervisors and co-workers, but her ability to withstand the stress and changes associated with an 8-hour workday and day-to-day work activities is moderately impaired.

Stalling I at 2:22-6:9 (footnotes renumbered; citations omitted).

Following remand, plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence, which shows that on April 2, 2007, Nellie Anosa, M.D., a psychiatrist at RCDMH, examined plaintiff and diagnosed her with a non-psychotic recurrent major depressive episode and amphetamine dependence, and determined plaintiff's GAF was 55. A.R. 495-96. Dr. Anosa observed that plaintiff was alert, coherent and oriented (x3) with a neutral mood, average intelligence, and unimpaired judgment and insight. A.R. ...


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