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Chavez v. Astrue

September 30, 2009



Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). For the reasons discussed below, the courtdenies plaintiff's motion and grants the Commissioner's cross-motion.


Plaintiff, born September 6, 1968, formally applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on July 29, 2005. Administrative Record ("AR") 48-51. His application was denied on January 6, 2006, on the basis that lacked the requisite disability. Id. at 41-45. He requested reconsideration which was denied on March 30, 2005. Id. at 34-39. On May 22, 2005, he requested a hearing which was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Daniel G. Heeley on July 25, 2007. Id. at 313-37. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, and testified along with witness Kimberlyn Straws and vocational expert George Meyers. Id.

The ALJ issued a decision on October 18, 2007, finding that plaintiff is not disabled.*fn1 Id. at 11-21. The ALJ made the following specific findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 29, 2005, the application date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, depression, and anxiety (20 CFR 416.920(c)).

3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).


4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work except the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; cannot have contact with hazards such as heights and moving machinery; can perform simple, routine tasks; can have occasional public contact; and cannot perform jobs with high productions quotas.


5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).

6. The claimant was born on September 6, 1968 and was 36 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).

7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).

9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.960(c) and 416.966).

*** 10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since July 29, 2005, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

Id. at 16-20.

Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 10. However, on February 8, 2007, the Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security." Id. at 6-8.


October 9, 2005 Social Security Consultative Medical Evaluation -- Amil Garg, M.D. On October 9, 2005, Dr. Amil Garg diagnosed plaintiff with:

1. Seizure disorder, both grand mal and petit mal.

2. Panic attacks and possible underlying depression.

3. Feet pain, likely plantar fasciitis.

AR 121. Plaintiff reported having an average of 2 seizures per week. AR 118. Dr. Garg noted that plaintiff was on medications for her seizures, which helped but did not "control them fully."

AR 118.

Dr. Garg opined that plaintiff "should be able to stand and walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday with breaks on account of her foot pain"; "there is no limitation in [her] sitting"; she "should be able to lift 50 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently"; "[t]here are no postural limitations"; she "should be able to bend, stoop, and crouch"; she "should be able to do reaching, handling, feeling, grasping and feeling"; she "has workplace limitations of not being able to drive because of her frequent seizures, and she should not work at heights or operate heavy machinery because of her seizures"; and "[t]here are no visual or communicative limitations." AR 121-22.

October 15, 2005 Social Security Consultative Psychiatric Evaluation -- Mandeep Behniwal, M.D.

On October 15, 2005, Dr. Mandeep Behniwal diagnosed plaintiff as follows:

Axis I: Adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

Rule out major depressive disorder.

Methamphetamine dependence in complete sustained remission. Alcohol dependence in complete sustained remission, per claimant.

Axis II: No diagnosis.

Axis III: As in Medical History.

Axis IV: Moderate: Health issues, financial. Axis V: GAF: 55.*fn2

AR 126. Dr. Behniwal noted that plaintiff was on medications, but that she was not receiving any "current psychiatric follow-up." AR 124. Dr. Behniwal opined that plaintiff's "problems seems to be treatable and the likelihood of recovery within the next 12 months is fair." AR 126.

Dr. Behniwal further opined that plaintiff "seemed to be capable of managing her funds to the best of her interest"; "does not have any drug problems and can do simple calculations"; has "the ability to perform simple and repetitive tasks and can perform detailed and complex tasks also"; "should be able to accept instructions from her supervisors and she may have mild difficulty interacting with co-workers and the public"; "will also have moderate difficulty performing work activities on a consistent basis and maintaining regular attendance in the workplace and completing a normal workday/workweek, and in dealing with the usual stress encountered in competitive work." AR 127.

Other Medical Evidence

On August 17, 2005, Nurse Practitioner Marsha Rickard at Los Molinos Family Health Center assessed plaintiff as having "a history of seizure disorder, under fair control previously with self-medication of Neurontin and Mysoline" and a "history of mental disorder." AR 145. She stated that the plan was to refill plaintiff's medications and "get a sleep depravation EEG" and neurology and mental health referrals. AR 145.

A laboratory report dated August 19, 2005 reflected that plaintiff had an elevated Glucose, Serum count of 121 H, with normal being 65-99. AR 142. An August 24, 2005 EEG report was normal. AR 141.

On August 25, 2005, plaintiff went to Tehama County Health Services Agency to seek mental health services. AR 182. She was interviewed by a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern ("MFTI"). AR 184. Plaintiff reported that she had been on medications in the past, that the medications were ...

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