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Lizarraga v. Astrue

January 20, 2010


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


[Docket Nos. 12, 14]

Plaintiff Estela Lizarraga ("Plaintiff") moves for reversal or remand of a decision denying her Social Security disability benefits. 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 neither filed an opposition to Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment nor a reply to Defendant's opposition to her motion for reversal. Plaintiff argues in her motion for reversal that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by: (1) disregarding the physical functional capacity assessments of two of Plaintiff's treating physicians, (2) disregarding mental functional capacity assessments of three mental health experts, and (3) improperly discrediting Plaintiff's credibility. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for reversal, and grants Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.


Plaintiff was born on December 9, 1954, and possesses a ninth grade education. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 27-28.) Since 1998, Plaintiff has worked as a vegetable sorter and quality control technician, bakery clerk, cashier, and food service worker. (Id. at 149-55.) On February 7, 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of May 17, 2002. (Id. at 115-19.) Plaintiff alleged she was injured at work as a bakery clerk on January 20, 2002. (Id. at 244.) She continued working until May 17, 2002, when pain in her neck, back, shoulder, and knees prevented her from standing, walking, bending, twisting, or lifting. (Id. at 135.)

Plaintiff's application was denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. (Id. at 61-65, 69-73.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Id. at 74.) A hearing was held on November 1, 2007, before ALJ Larry B. Parker, at which Plaintiff, her counsel, and a vocational expert appeared. (Id. 24-58.) On February 26, 2008, ALJ Parker issued a written decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits. (Id. at 9-17.) Plaintiff appealed the decision. The Appeals Council denied review on April 28, 2009, and Plaintiff filed a request for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on June 25, 2009. (Id. at 1-5.)


The record contains evidence of Plaintiff's medical reports and expert opinions, as well as Plaintiff's testimony. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she stopped working due to pain in her neck, back and knees. (Id. at 29.) She underwent surgery on her back and left knee, but the pain worsened. (Id. at 32-33.) She continued having pain in her neck, shoulders, arms, back, knees, legs, and hips, which limited her ability to sit, stand, and walk for long periods of time. (Id. at 32-33, 37-39.) Around the house, Plaintiff was able to do some dusting and could wash a few dishes. (Id. at 41-42.) Her cousin did most of the grocery shopping, but Plaintiff could shop for a few light items when necessary. (Id. at 42.) She attended church on Sundays and occasionally went for walks on the beach. (Id. at 45-43.) Additionally, Plaintiff was treated psychiatrically for depression. (Id. at 40.) She testified she had problems dealing with people, was angry more, and was unable to concentrate because of her pain. (Id.)

A. Physical Impairment Treatment Evidence

On November 1, 2002, Dr. Bernicker performed surgery on Plaintiff's left knee. (AR at 236-37.) On November 16, 2004, Drs. Korsh and Bench performed an anterior lumbar decompression and fusion at L5-S1. (Id. at 287-89.) On September 27, 2005, Dr. Korsh performed a partial corpectomy and anterior fusion at C3-4. (Id. at 264-66.) Plaintiff also received pain management treatment from Dr. Rose. (Id. at 211, 234.)

On November 15, 2006, Dr. Korsh provided a Primary Treating Physician's Requested Supplemental Report. (Id. at 545-46.) Dr. Korsh opined that Plaintiff had a disability precluding heavy lifting, repetitive motion of the neck, and overhead use of the arms. Dr. Korsh further stated that Plaintiff had lost "50% of her pre-injury capacity for performing such activities as bending, stooping, pushing, pulling, climbing, or other activities involving comparable physical effort." (Id.)

On July 6, 2006, Dr. Byron King provided a Qualified Medical Examiner's Report. (Id. at 569-78.) Dr. King performed a physical examination of Plaintiff and examined her medical records. (Id. at 569.) Dr. King had previously provided other Qualified Medical Examiner's Reports for Plaintiff. (Id. at 570.) Dr. King found that Plaintiff had a fusion at L5-S1 on her lower back, limited range of motion on the cervical and lumbar spine, and general discomfort around the knees. (Id. at 574-76.) Dr. King concluded that her multi-level condition, including chronic pain management needs, limited her to semi-sedentary work where she could work 50% of the time sitting and 50% of the time standing or walking. (Id. at 576.) Dr. King determined that Plaintiff would need future medical care by an orthopedic surgeon for her spine and knee complaints, but would not likely require future surgery; however, she would need a pain management physician and psychiatrist. (Id. at 577.)

Dr. King provided an additional report on June 19, 2007. (Id. at 689-703.) He found that Plaintiff continued to have limited range of motion in the cervical and lumbar spine and reiterated his conclusion that Plaintiff was limited to semi-sedentary work. (Id. at 696, 700.) Dr. King also noted that Plaintiff's subjective complaints exceeded his objective findings. (Id. at 696.)

On June 6, 2006, Dr. Thomas Dorsey provided an Orthopaedic Consultation Report. (Id. at 559-62.) Dr. Dorsey performed a physical examination on Plaintiff and found she had full range of motion in her knees, and normal ranges of motion in her shoulders and hips. (Id. at 561.) Dr. Dorsey concluded ...

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