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Ratmyseng v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Nang N. Ratmyseng seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for child's supplemental security income ("SSI"), pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.) (the "Act"). The matter is currently before the court on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and the parties' cross-briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sandra M. Snyder, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1 Following a review of the complete record, this Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based on proper legal standards. Accordingly, this Court denies Plaintiff's appeal.

I. Administrative Record

A. Procedural History

On March 12, 2004, Plaintiff's mother, Thep Ratmyseng, applied on Plaintiff's behalf for child's SSI benefits under the Act, alleging disability due to schizophrenia and paranoia. AR 11, 67. She alleged that Plaintiff was unable to concentrate in school, removed her clothing and exhibited her genitalia to others, self-mutilated, broke and kicked things, and threatened to hurt her mother. AR 68-69, 78. Plaintiff's disability allegedly began June 1, 2002. AR 57.

After the claim was denied administratively and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 48-49. After a hearing, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application on November 6, 2006. AR 8-20. Plaintiff moved for review on December 29, 2006. AR 7. On September 27, 2007, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision and declared the ALJ's decision the final decision in this action. AR 4-6. Plaintiff filed her complaint, seeking judicial review, on November 29, 2007. Doc. 2.

B. Factual Record

In the earliest evidentiary document in this case, the California juvenile court ordered Plaintiff removed from her home in an order dated December 8, 2003. AR 92-99. According to the order, police officers had removed Plaintiff from her Fresno home on February 6, 2003, after she assaulted her mother in the course of an argument arising from Plaintiff's refusal to remove jewelry from her chin piercing. AR 93. Plaintiff was initially placed in a group home, from which she eloped; then detained in juvenile hall; then placed in a second group home. AR 94. On April 19, 2003, Plaintiff was taken to the Psychiatric Assessment Center for Treatment ("PACT") after she began to drool, experienced difficulty breathing, and told voices in her head to shut up. AR 94. She was transferred to Heritage Oaks Hospital in Sacramento until May 6, 2003, when she was returned to juvenile hall in Fresno. AR 94.

On June 5, 2003, Plaintiff was placed in a third group home. AR 94. After she cut her wrists on July 12, 2003, Plaintiff was taken to a hospital for stitches, then transferred to PACT. AR 94. Thereafter, the group home determined that it could no longer serve her, and she was returned to juvenile hall for violation of probation. AR 94.

On August 20, 2003, Plaintiff was placed in a fourth group home, from which she eloped on August 21, 2003. AR 94. She was arrested and returned to juvenile hall on September 3, 2003, where she was detained until December, when the court issued its order. AR 94-95.

In its December 2003 order, the juvenile court found that Plaintiff had not remained in any of the group homes long enough to receive therapy and counseling. AR 95. Her behavior was unsatisfactory until her fall detention in juvenile hall, where she was doing well. AR 95. She was also doing well at Ashjian Treatment Center school. AR 95.

The juvenile court recommended that, until its next review in June 2004,*fn2 Plaintiff be placed in a group home able to provide appropriate services. AR 96-97. The court's detailed Placement Needs Assessment and Case Plan is reproduced at AR 100-108. Objectives included family reunification, elimination of Plaintiff's drug and alcohol dependency, academic improvement, anger management, and self-control. AR 102-105.

Medical and counseling records from Plaintiff's stay at juvenile hall document her anger, defiance, and manipulative personality, and her intermittent compliance in taking her medications. AR 111-137. Following an initial psychiatric evaluation on June 17, 2003, Dr. Leticia Chua reported that Plaintiff was depressed and angry, had auditory and visual hallucinations, and had previously considered suicide and cut herself. AR 128-132. On July 26, 2003, psychiatrist Emanuel Fantone reported that Plaintiff was suicidal and initially refused medications, but later consented to certain medications. AR 125. On August 16, 2003, Plaintiff told Fantone that she was hearing voices. AR 124. On September 20, 2003, Dr. Fantone found no psychosis, but diagnosed recurrent depression and conduct disorder. AR122.

Plaintiff cut her wrist on October 28, 2003, and threatened to do so again on October 30, 2003, if her mother did not visit her. AR 116, 118. On November 29, 2003, Dr. Fantone reported that Plaintiff was intermittently compliant with medications of Risperdol and Wellbutrin,*fn3 and that she reported hearing voices arguing. AR 114. He diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and recurrent depression in remission. AR 114. On December 27, 2003, Fantone reported that Plaintiff was compliant in taking medications and was feeling better and not experiencing delusions. AR 113.

According to the February 9, 2004 report of Dr. Fernandez of Fresno County Human Services System, Plaintiff was released from juvenile hall on January 26, 2004. AR 111. She was to begin ninth grade at McClain High School. AR 111. Fernandez updated Plaintiff's diagnosis to include bipolar disorder. AR 111. By May 2004, Plaintiff was back home on a trial basis. AR144.

On May 5, 2004, Fresno police removed Plaintiff from her home after she broke a window and repeatedly cut herself using the glass. AR 140, 144, 153. Plaintiff was angry at her mother, who had reported to a social worker that Plaintiff was not attending school. AR 144, 155. Plaintiff's mother also reported that Plaintiff was noncompliant with medication and refused to attend therapy. AR 156. Plaintiff was discharged to juvenile hall and directed to secure continued mental health treatment. AR 139, 144.

Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Mohini Shukla on September 16, 2004. AR 177-179. In her initial appointment, Plaintiff denied depression, hallucinations, delusions and thought disorders. AR 177-178. Noting that Plaintiff was attending Community Day School but sleeping in class and doing no work, Shukla described her as "passively defiant" and predicted that she was unlikely to take her medications as prescribed. AR 178. On October 13, 2004, Plaintiff told Shukla that she had previously lied about hallucinating. AR 176. As a result, in a reports dated October 21, and November 16, 2004, Shukla questioned the diagnosis of schizophrenia. AR 173. Shukla diagnosed Plaintiff as having unstable ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and a conduct disorder. AR173. As treatment progressed, Shukla reported less hyperactivity, and Plaintiff's becoming more manageable and less argumentative. AR 174.

In a Childhood Disability Evaluation Form (SSA-538-F6) prepared on behalf of Plaintiff on October 18, 2004, Dr. Evelyn Aquino-Caro identified Plaintiff as having a mental problem but concluded that current medical evidence was not sufficient to support a finding of a disability. AR181-189.

By November 16, 2004, Plaintiff reported continuing inability to focus and complete class work, although her medication made her feel better. AR 173. She denied hallucinations, delusions, and suicidal or homicidal thoughts. AR 173. Shukla noted that Plaintiff "interacted in a friendly and appropriate manner." AR 173.

From approximately December 16, 2004, through December 22, 2005, Plaintiff received medications, and participated in individual therapy as well as family therapy with her mother and sister Sing Sing through Fresno County Mental Health. AR 199-565. (By then, Plaintiff was again living at home with her mother and Sing Sing.) Progress notes from this period indicate that, with significant support from social service workers and agencies, Plaintiff and her family made progress on communication and mutual respect. Plaintiff herself progressed on developing self-control, particularly with regard to angry responses to her mother, and on developing self esteem. Treatment focused not only on Plaintiff's issues, but on those of Plaintiff's mother, who was also on probation and addressing drug and alcohol issues. The agency's records indicate that the family was to continue to receive necessary services from other sources following Plaintiff's release from probation, which occurred on October 27, 2005. AR 231.

Shortly after therapy had begun at Fresno County Mental Health, on January 18, 2005, Dr. Evangeline Murillo completed the second Childhood Disability Evaluation Form (SSA-538-F6). AR190. Murillo noted that Plaintiff's records were discontinuous, but that current reports indicated that Plaintiff's condition was improving. AR 198. A November 16, 2004, progress note indicated that Plaintiff was doing well in school and at home. AR 192. Her behavior was friendly and socially appropriate. AR 192. Finding that Plaintiff's claims were credible for condition but not for severity, Murillo concluded that Plaintiff's disability was not expected to continue more than 12 continuous months. AR 190; AR 198.

The October 7, 2005 evaluation of Dr. Brar*fn4 (AR 207-210) of the Fresno County Mental Health Department, reported:

15 yr old female with complicated diagnosis. Patient with history of chaotic upbringing, unstable life style, multiple juvenile hall visits. At one point patient was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Patient reported that in reality she never heard voices, she lied about it to get out of juvenile group homes. She regrets saying it.

She reports no signs of psychosis. No objective evidence of psychosis. [illegible] Patient initially defiant, irritable, then requests Mom to leave. She talks with doctor/counselor at ease. She reports feeling depressed since breakup with her boyfriend approximately two weeks ago. She reports long history of low mood, denies history of [illegible]. She reports history of making suicide threats but denies having plan or intent to act on those threats. She denies [illegible] plan or intent. She has history of conduct problems, ie, fighting, stealing, destroying property, staying out late at night, truancy from school. Mom reports that patient thinks she is [illegible]. She has poor sleep, does not get along with anyone, problems with school, history of assaultive behavior, blaming mother. Mom reports that patient has made threats to kill herself and mom in past. She reported patient makes these threats when she does not get her way.

AR 207.*fn5 Brar noted that Plaintiff was depressed and irritable, but showed no psychotic phenomena, delusions, hallucinations, command hallucinations, obsessions or compulsions, or suicidal or homicidal ideation or plan. AR 209. He reported that Plaintiff acted angry around her mother, but was fine with the counselor alone. AR 209.

C. Hearing Testimony

The hearing was held on August 15, 2006, when Plaintiff (born December 7, 1989) was sixteen years old. AR 566-602. Plaintiff testified that, because she did not get along with her mother, she was then living with her grandfather and step-grandmother, into whose home she had moved two years earlier. AR 571, 573, 595.*fn6 She had not been on probation since 2005. AR 574. Plaintiff still saw her mother nearly every day to eat and talk, rent movies, and go shopping. AR 576.

Plaintiff was reluctant to testify about interactions with her counselor, describing them as "embarrassing." AR 577. She reported that she sometimes got along with her counselor, with whom she discussed family problems. AR 578. Plaintiff refused to testify further regarding the nature of her counseling. AR 578. Plaintiff testified that she saw her doctor only when she needed to arrange for refills of her medications, Risperdal(r) and Effexor(r).*fn7 AR 579-580. Although the doctor repeatedly offered her further counseling, Plaintiff stated that she did not need it. AR 579-580.

According to Plaintiff, her medication calmed her down. AR 581. She liked that it helped her lose weight, but not that it induced sleepiness. AR 582, 583, 584. Plaintiff took her medication, which was to be taken daily, only three or four times weekly. AR 583. As with her household chores, declared Plaintiff, she did things only when she wanted to. AR 585.

Later in August 2006, Plaintiff looked forward to beginning her fourth year of high school at McClain, attending the tenth grade. AR 572, 590. The previous year, Plaintiff had studied at home, completing two credits. AR 573.

Plaintiff claimed that she liked to cook, especially noodles and Asian food, but could not say whether anyone liked her cooking. AR 586. She testified that she and her friends liked to hang out, watch movies, walk around, and "beat up other kids," although she immediately disclaimed that they beat others, saying she was "just playing." AR 587. Plaintiff described herself as the "class clown," who "like[d] to laugh and act stupid with people" and "make fun of people." AR 589. The testimony continued:

Q (Plaintiff's attorney): Why do you do that?

A: I don't know. I'm just -- I'm that type of person. I'm not mean, but sometimes, I just like to make fun. Not make fun, like, hurt their feelings, but just, like, just make them laugh.

Q: Does that make you feel better, too?

A: It makes me happy, you know, to make somebody laugh.

Q: Do you, do you get along with most of the ...

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