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Mejia-Raigoza v. Astrue

May 2, 2010

MARIA MEJIA-RAIGOZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Maria Mejia-Raigoza ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II 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 Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1

FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS*fn2

Plaintiff filed her application on January 23, 2004, alleging disability since November 22, 2002, due bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS"). AR 163-166, 177-186. After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 87-90, 94-98, 99. ALJ David M. Ganly held a hearing on July 6, 2005, and issued an order denying benefits on August 25, 2005. AR 614-636, 62-74. On March 8, 2006, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the action to another ALJ for further proceedings. AR 125-129.

ALJ Michael Haubner held a second hearing on April 24, 2007. AR 637-676. He denied benefits on May 17, 2007. AR 46-55. The Appeals Council denied review on December 8, 2008. AR 6-9.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Haubner held a hearing in Bakersfield, California, on April 24, 2007. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney, Tim Carpenter. Vocational expert ("VE") Cheryl Chandler also appeared and testified. AR 637.

Plaintiff testified that she was born in 1967 and completed the ninth grade. She took community college courses to become certified as a word processor. AR 646-647. Plaintiff worked as an accounting assistant from 1995 through 2002 and as a medical assistant 1988 through 1993. AR 648-649. She last worked on November 21, 2002. AR 649.

Plaintiff lives with her children and her brother. AR 650. She has a driver's license and drives about twice a day to drop off and pick up her children from school. AR 651-652. She has difficulty grasping the steering wheel, however. AR 673. Plaintiff is able to take care of her personal needs and perform simple meal preparation. AR 652-653. She does not do dishes more than once a week and does not do laundry or household chores. AR 653-654.

Plaintiff estimated that she watched about four hours of television a day and lays down for about six hours. AR 656-657. She has pain in the back of her neck, shoulders, elbows and mid- back. AR 657. She also had pain in her joints, as well as asthma. AR 658.

Plaintiff thought that she could lift about 10 pounds, sit for 20 minutes, walk for 10 minutes and stand for 30 minutes. She also has difficulties concentrating and paying attention, and estimated that she could focus for about five minutes. AR 659-660. Plaintiff's medication causes dizziness and joint pain, though changing the dosage and/or medication helps alleviate the side effects. AR 660.

When questioned by her attorney, Plaintiff testified that her wrist pain averages a seven on a ten-point scale, her neck and shoulder pain average about an eight, and her back pain averages about a nine. She believed that her main impairment was her hands. AR 671-672. Plaintiff testified that it is painful to bend, kneel and crawl. She wakes up often at night because of pain and numbness. AR 674.

For the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume a person of Plaintiff's age, education and experience. This person could stand and walk for about eight hours, sit for about eight hours, and lift and carry 100 pounds occasionally, 50 pounds frequently. The VE testified that this person could perform Plaintiff's past work as an accountant assistant and a medical assistant. AR 663-664.

For the second hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume that this person needed to avoid very heavy lifting and repetitive work at or above shoulder level. The VE testified that this person could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 664. This person could also perform unskilled sedentary, light and medium work, though there would be some erosion based on the repetitive work limitation. For example, this person could perform the medium position of dining room attendant, entertainment attendant, golf range attendant and cashier. AR 665-666.

For the third hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume that this person could not perform very heavy lifting or very heavy pushing and pulling. This person could not perform repetitive gripping, grasping or fingering with both hands. The person was also precluded from performing repetitive work above shoulder level with both hands. The VE testified that this person could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work and could only perform about one percent of light and sedentary positions. The VE identified the position of surveillance monitor, of which were about 1,100 positions in California. AR 666.

For the fourth hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume a person who could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk about six hours and sit for about six hours. This person has a limited ability to push and pull with the upper extremities and needed to avoid frequent gripping, grasping or twisting with either hand. This person also needed to avoid frequent pinching, plucking or keyboarding with either hand. The VE testified that this person could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work, as well as many other light jobs. AR 667-668.

For the fifth hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume a person who could lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, and who needed to avoid constant pushing and pulling. This person could occasionally balance and crawl, but needed to avoid ladders, ropes and scaffolds. This person also needed to avoid constant gripping and grasping with both hands, constant flexion of the wrists and elbows, concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts and gases, and exposure to vibration. The VE testified that this person could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. Alternatively, this person could perform many other light jobs. AR 669-670.

For the sixth hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume that this person could not lift or carry more than five pounds, could not perform repetitive movements with either upper extremity, and could not perform forward, backward or lateral overhead reaching, pushing or pulling. The VE testified that this person could not perform Plaintiff's past work and could not perform any other work. AR 670.

For the seventh hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume that this person could lift and carry 10 pounds, sit for 20 minutes at a time, stand for 30 minutes at a time and walk for 10 minutes at a time. This person could concentrate in five minute increments and needed to elevate their feet for six hours out of ...


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