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Blajos v. Astrue

March 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff, Hector Blajos ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


On or about April 5, 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income alleging disability since January 11, 2006. AR 110;113. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 79-82; 84-87. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 88. ALJ Bret Hoffman held a hearing on March 25, 2008, and issued an order denying benefits on April 21, 2008. AR 5-65. On September 26, 2008, the Appeals Council denied review. A.R. 5-8.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Hoffman held a hearing on March 25, 2008, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared and was represented by Melissa Proudian. AR 18.

Plaintiff is forty four year old, single, male. AR 19. He does not have any children. AR 20. He completed the ninth grade and has not received any vocational training. AR 22. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was living with his family, which included his mother, father, two sisters, and their five children. AR 23; 62. He has lived with them for the past three months. AR 23. His family was financially supporting him prior to that time. AR 23; 62. He also receives food stamps. AR 23. Plaintiff possesses a California driver's license and drives everyday to visit friends and family, as well as to go the grocery store. AR 20-22. His driving is limited, however, by his carpal tunnel syndrome and his back pain. AR 22.

Plaintiff last worked at Zacky farms where he has hanging turkeys on a shackle. AR 23. The turkeys weighed fifty to sixty pounds. AR 23-24. He stopped working there in 2005 because of his carpal tunnel syndrome and because he hurt his back. AR 24. Plaintiff filed a Worker's Compensation claim which resulted in a settlement, but he does not receive continuing medical benefits as part of that case. AR 24-25.

Prior to working at Zacky Farms, Plaintiff worked at La Tapatia, a tortilla factory, for approximately one month. AR 28. Plaintiff left that job because he moved out of town. AR 28. Before working at La Tapatia, Plaintiff was employed at Valley Lahvosh as a sanitation worker where he lifted forty-five pound sacks. AR 29-30; 33. Plaintiff had worked there for at least four years but was fired in 1999. AR 29-30. He believed he was fired because he could not read or write. AR 30. When the ALJ noted that Plaintiff indicated he could read and write English on his application for benefits, Plaintiff indicated that his reading and writing abilities were very limited. AR 32; 121. Plaintiff stopped working between 1999 and 2005 for "no reason" and lived off of his savings during that time. AR 29. Prior to working at Valley Lahvosh, Plaintiff worked at Flowers Bakery for fifteen years in the sanitation department where he lifted forty to fifty pound sacks. AR 33.

Plaintiff is unable to perform his past work because of his carpal tunnel syndrome in his left hand. AR 35. He is also blind in his left eye and suffers from pain in his back, both of his legs, and his heels. AR 35-36.

Plaintiff's difficulty with his carpal tunnel syndrome began while he was working at Zacky Farms in 2005. AR 36. The injury occurred all at once when his arm just "started hurting." AR 37; 39. He was put on light duty making boxes for one day. AR 37; 39. The boxes weighed under ten pounds and he performed this job for six hours, but his left wrist started hurting him. AR 39-40. Plaintiff returned to his regular job, however, he was unable to complete his normal job duties. AR 40. Plaintiff did not go back to work and did not seek other employment after that time. AR 41. He did not see his treating physician for his left arm after that point, however, he did get physical therapy. AR 41-42. Plaintiff received physical therapy until September 2007, but stopped because Workers' Compensation would no longer pay for it. AR 41-42.

Plaintiff wears a brace on his left arm every day including when he sleeps to prevent his wrist from moving. AR 43-44. When the ALJ noted that the brace looked like it had not been worn every day for months, Plaintiff indicated that he washes the brace every three days. AR 45. Plaintiff indicated that he had a different Volar splint that he used for approximately one or two weeks but stopped using it because it did not help him. AR 45. Plaintiff indicated that surgery was recommended but he elected not to have it. AR 47. He may have surgery in the future if the pain was strong enough. AR 47.

As a result of his carpal tunnel syndrome, Plaintiff is unable to lift anything with his left hand except for a newspaper or a cup of soda. AR 48-49. He can also hold a coin between his left index finger and his thumb. AR 52. He is able to grasp objects with his left hand for approximately one hour but then his hand starts to hurt and swell. AR 49. He can also perform repetitive movements but is only able to do so for three to four minutes before needing to sit and rest for two or three hours. AR 50. He is able to reach overhead to get something out of the cupboard and he can reach out in front of his shoulder, however, it hurts him to do so. AR 51-52. He also experiences pain when he showers. AR 48. In the past, Plaintiff applied ice to alleviate pain but he no longer does so. AR 52. Plaintiff indicated that he is able to lift two or three pounds using both of his arms, and four to five pounds using just his right arm. AR 52.

In addition to the difficulties with his left arm, Plaintiff also experiences pain all over his lower back. AR 52-53. The back pain began when he was working at Zacky Farms. AR 55. He takes Ibuprofen three times a day which helps alleviate some of the pain but it makes him nauseous. AR 53-54. Plaintiff has not contacted his doctor to get a different medication. AR 55. Plaintiff went to physical therapy in the past for his back pain but it did not help. AR 55.

Plaintiff is able to sit and stand but he is in constant pain and suffers from stiffness and tightness. AR 56. Plaintiff lays down for three to four hours a day to rest his back which provides him relief but this does not alleviate all of his back pain. AR 57. Plaintiff is only able to stand for a minute and then he needs to get up, walk, and massage his back. AR 58. He is able to walk from his apartment to his mailbox. AR 58. Plaintiff does not cook but he could fix himself something to eat ...

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