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Downton v. Astrue

November 4, 2009

SONJA KAYE DOWNTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw United States District Judge

ORDER (1) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Docket Nos. 15, 16]

Plaintiff Sonja Kaye Downton ("Plaintiff") moves for reversal or remand. Defendant Michael J. Astrue, in his capacity as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, opposes Plaintiff's motion and cross-moves for summary judgment. Plaintiff did not file an opposition to Defendant's motion or a reply to Defendant's opposition. In her motion, Plaintiff argues the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in (1) rejecting the testimony of Plaintiff's mother and daughter regarding the severity of her condition, (2) failing to ask the vocational expert ("VE") whether his testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), and (3) rejecting the opinion of one of Plaintiff's treating physicians. Plaintiff also asserts the ALJ's reasons for discrediting her allegations of pain were legally insufficient, and the ALJ failed to develop the record. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for reversal or remand, and grants Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 51-year-old female with a high school education. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 75, 145.) On October 29, 2003, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of October 15, 2002. (Id. at 34.) Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to thyroid disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), back and leg pain, cramps, muscle spasms and foot pain. (Id. at 139.) In conjunction with Plaintiff's application, her mother, Laura Williams, submitted a "Function Report Adult - Third Party." (Id. at 172-80.) In that report, Ms. Williams stated Plaintiff's daily activities included taking medicine, eating, watching television, and cleaning as much as physically possible. (Id. at 172.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for disability benefits on April 29, 2004. (Id. at 409-14.)

On June 1, 2004, Plaintiff filed an appeal of that denial, alleging additional problems with her intestines, as well as glaucoma. (Id. at 162-68.) In conjunction with her appeal, Plaintiff submitted a form entitled "Medical Source Statement of Physical and/or Mental Work-Related Impairments" that was completed by one of her treating physicians, Daljeet Singh, M.D. (Id. at 322-26.) In that form, Dr. Singh diagnosed Plaintiff with degenerative joint disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), hypertension and irritable bowel syndrome. (Id. at 322.) He also provided his opinion about Plaintiff's physical and mental abilities in light of these impairments. (Id. at 323-26.)

On May 3, 2006, ALJ Joyce Craig held a hearing on Plaintiff's appeal. (Id. at 26-31.) Attorney Joan Deans represented Plaintiff at the hearing. (Id. at 26.) ALJ Craig also called a medical expert, Dr. Stephen Sulavik. (Id.) The hearing was brief and ultimately was continued to allow the medical expert to review all of the medical records.

Subsequent to that hearing, Plaintiff moved to San Diego from her previous residence of Higginsville, Missouri. (Id. at 98.) In accordance with that move, the Social Security Administration transferred Plaintiff's file to its San Diego office. (Id. at 99.)

On November 13, 2006, ALJ Leland Spencer resumed the hearing on Plaintiff's appeal. (Id. at 32.) Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at that hearing. Plaintiff testified that she suffered from COPD, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, degenerative joint disease, arthritis, depression and anxiety. (Id. at 39-40.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Plaintiff's daughter, Carla Conaway, and VE Mark Remas. (Id. at 32.)

On May 22, 2007, ALJ Edward Steinman issued a written decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits. (Id. at 18-25.) In reaching his decision that Plaintiff was not disabled, the ALJ employed the five-step sequential process to evaluate Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (b)-(f).*fn1

At step one, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to the decision. (AR at 20.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, chronic pain disorder, depression NOS, and somatoform disorder." (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments[.]" (Id. at 21.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform "light work, in a clean air environment, involving simple repetitive tasks, with limited contact with peers or supervisors." (Id.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not return to any past relevant work as a nurse assistant, dry cleaning attendant, or cashier II. (Id. at 23.) At step five, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functioning capacity, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy; and thus, Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.)

Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 14.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 24, 2008. (See id. at 7-9.) Plaintiff filed the present case on November 20, 2008.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred (1) in rejecting the testimony of Plaintiff's mother and daughter regarding the severity of Plaintiff's condition, (2) in failing to ask the VE whether his testimony was consistent with the DOT, (3) in rejecting the opinions of Dr. Singh, (4) in failing to provide legally sufficient reasons for discrediting Plaintiff's allegations ...


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