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Lee v. Astrue

January 27, 2010

LOUISE KAM HAR LEE, 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 Louise Kam Har Lee filed a complaint on November 14, 2008, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability benefits. On April 24, 2009, the Commissioner answered the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on July 10, 2009.

BACKGROUND

I.

On January 31, 2007, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, claiming an inability to work since December 2, 2006, due to Crohn's disease.*fn1 Certified Administrative Record ("A.R.") 71-78, 85. The plaintiff's application was initially denied on April 12, 2007. A.R. 50-54. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey A. Hatfield ("the ALJ") on February 27, 2008. A.R. 17-48, 58. On May 20, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 7-16. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on September 16, 2008. A.R. 1-6.

II.

The plaintiff, who was born on November 2, 1950, is currently 59 years old. A.R. 21, 71. She has an associate certificate from Hong Kong, and previously worked as an integrated circuit layout designer. A.R. 23-24, 86, 89.

Between April 24, 2006, and January 15, 2008, plaintiff received medical treatment at Kaiser Permanente. A.R. 107-22, 141-91. On April 24, 2006, Peter Sender, M.D., examined plaintiff, diagnosed her with Crohn's disease in remission, among other conditions, and noted plaintiff stated she had 2-3 normal stools per day, watery diarrhea and upper and lower abdominal cramps. A.R. 141-46. On November 17, 2006, Dr. Sender reexamined plaintiff, and noted plaintiff stated she had 2-3 normal stools per day, watery diarrhea, upper and lower abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and bloating, and Dr. Sender concluded plaintiff's condition was recurrent and poorly controlled with medication. A.R. 150-53. Dr. Sender next saw plaintiff on January 23, 2007, noting plaintiff now indicated she had 3-4 loose stools per day and watery diarrhea and upper and lower abdominal cramps, and Dr. Sender opined plaintiff's condition was worse and poorly controlled with medication. A.R. 111-15, 158-60. On November 15, 2007, Dr. Sender reexamined plaintiff and noted plaintiff stated she had 2 loose and normal stools per day; Dr. Sender opined that plaintiff's condition is now recurrent and well-controlled with medication, although plaintiff continued to complain of watery diarrhea and lower abdominal cramps, and her condition had been intermittent and severe for the past two years. A.R. 185-88.

On July 6, 2006, Jennifer Wing-Yun Lam, M.D., examined plaintiff, diagnosed her with a lipid metabolism disorder, among other conditions, and noted plaintiff stated she had occasional diarrhea, no abdominal cramping, and had been exercising by line dancing twice a week. A.R. 147-49. On January 25, 2007, Dr. Lam opined that plaintiff "is unable to work for the next 12 months" because she complains of: "frequent diarrhea with up to ten bowel movements a day[;] . . . worsening abdominal pain, gas, fatigue and weight loss despite being on medication for Crohn's disease[;] and . . . severe joint pain. . . ." A.R. 107. On February 2, 2007, Dr. Lam reexamined plaintiff, and noted plaintiff stated she had 3 bowel movements a day, sometimes loose and sometimes solid. A.R. 116-20, 161-63. On May 23, 2007, Dr. Lam again examined plaintiff, and noted plaintiff still complained she goes to the bathroom 2-3 times a day, had diarrhea 4 times in the past month, felt she was getting flu-like symptoms along with diarrhea, and has occasional joint pains. A.R. 175-77. On August 20, 2007, Dr. Lam diagnosed plaintiff as having sciatica in addition to Crohn's disease and her other conditions, and noted plaintiff still complained of frequent Crohn's flare-ups and associated joint pain, as well as pain in her left side, which may have been the result of a back strain while doing yoga. A.R. 181-84.

On April 6, 2007, Ursula Taylor, M.D., an internist, examined plaintiff and diagnosed her with Crohn's disease, which appeared to be mild. A.R. 123-27. Dr. Taylor opined plaintiff can lift, carry, push and pull 20 pound occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, can stand and walk for 6 hours out of an 8-hour day, and is otherwise not limited. A.R. 127. On April 12, 2007, nonexamining physician G.B. Huskey similarly opined plaintiff can occasionally lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds, frequently lift and/or carry up to 10 pounds, can sit and stand and/or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and is otherwise not limited. A.R. 128-33.

DISCUSSION

III.

The Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), has the authority to review the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff disability benefits to determine if substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and whether the proper legal standards were used in reaching the decision. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009); Vernoff v. Astrue, 568 F.3d 1102, 1105 (9th Cir. 2009). "In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, [this Court] must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001). "Where the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision, [this Court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner." Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S.Ct. 1068 (2008); Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591.

The claimant is "disabled" for the purpose of receiving benefits under the Act if she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to an impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). "The claimant bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability." Roberts v. Shalala, 66 F.3d 179, ...


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