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Jewell v. Astrue

August 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


(Doc. 2)


Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


A. Prior Proceedings

Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on August 3, 2005, alleging disability beginning September 1, 2004, due to depression and anxiety. (AR 132, 179, 477.) Following the Commissioner's denial of her applications initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 64-73, 80-86, 478-79.)

ALJ James Berry held hearings on November 27, 2007, and March 17, 2008, and issued a decision on April 17, 2008, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 19-30, 35-63.) On November 24, 2008, the Appeals Council denied review. (AR 12-15.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born in 1970 and asserts she has a bachelor's degree in elementary education. (AR 45.) From 1996 to 1998, Plaintiff worked for a cable company as a sales representative.*fn2 (AR 46.) Plaintiff also worked as a property manager until October 2004.*fn3 (AR 46-47.) Plaintiff left work as a property manager because of "real bad episodes" of depression and anxiety. (AR 47.) Plaintiff asserts that her depression is a lifelong problem and that she stopped working because she "couldn't function at work," "didn't have energy," and "didn't want to live." (AR 47.) Plaintiff did some work in 2005 through a temporary agency for one and a half months. (AR 55.) According to Plaintiff, she left because of medical reasons, but the ALJ noted that the record indicated that she was laid off. (AR 56, 298.)

According to Plaintiff, in 2004 she became forgetful, and she "started hearing voices" and "feeling really, really depressed." (AR 48.) The voices would tell her to kill herself; at one time, the voices told her to burn down the house with her children in it. (AR 48.) She has attempted to commit suicide three times, the last time in 2006 or 2007. (AR 48.)

In April 2004, Plaintiff was admitted to Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center ("Loma Linda"), where testing revealed a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") of 35 on admission and 45 at the time of discharge. In July 2005, Plaintiff admitted herself to Good Samaritan Hospital Southwest ("Good Samaritan") for suicidal ideation, but she left the hospital the same day. (AR 357.)

In August 2005, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI pursuant to Titles II and XVI, asserting that she was disabled due to her mental impairments. In October 2005, Plaintiff submitted a function report, indicating that she had no problems with her personal care, that she prepared her own meals once a week, cleaned her room, drove a car, handled money, and shopped for groceries. (AR 17-72.) In October 2005, Plaintiff's sister also completed a third-party function report which noted that Plaintiff provided care for her two sons, was able to handle her own personal care, prepared meals once a week, shopped for groceries, and managed finances. (AR 162-64.)

In November 2005, Plaintiff underwent a psychiatric examination conducted by Shailesh Patel, M.D., a Board-certified psychiatrist. (AR 272-74.) Dr. Patel found that Plaintiff was able to interact with co-workers and supervisors, deal with the public, understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. (AR 274.) He also found that she showed fair attention and concentration, a fair ability to work full-time, and the ability to handle funds. (AR 274.)

On March 29, 2006, Barry Rudnick, M.D., a state agency psychiatrist, assessed Plaintiff's functional limitations utilizing a psychiatric review technique form pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(e) and 416.920a(e). (AR 306-19.) Dr. Rudnick opined that Plaintiff's activities of daily living were mildly restricted, that she had moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, concentration, persistence, and pace, and that she would experience one or two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. (AR 316.)

Dr. Rudnick also assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") on March 29, 2006. (AR 320-23.) Dr. Rudnick's mental RFC assessment included the following information:

The claimant has a severe mental impairment that does not meet or equal a listing. She was briefly hospitalized in 2004 in the context of her fear of being assaulted by her husband. When he was in police custody, she felt safe returning to her home. The claimant has some symptoms of social withdrawal. She mainly stays at home. She is able to drive and can do basic [activities of daily living]. Cognitive function is more than mildly limited by depressive and anxiety symptoms. The severity of the mental impairment would be consistent with her being expected to be able to perform routine work related tasks not calling for more than routine interpersonal interaction.

(AR 323.) Another state agency psychiatrist confirmed Dr. Rudnick's mental RFC assessment on December 13, 2006. (AR 320.)

On December 14, 2006, Plaintiff admitted herself to Good Samaritan again, asserting that voices were instructing her to kill herself. (AR 347.) Dr. Raul Mendoza examined Plaintiff and assigned her a GAF of 15. (AR 351.) Upon Plaintiff's discharge on December 23, 2006, her GAF was assessed as 50. (AR 356.)

On January 22, 2007, Plaintiff again admitted herself to Good Samaritan because of increased suicidal ideation. (AR 454-55.) Dr. Mendoza assessed Plaintiff's GAF to be 15. On January 26, 2007, Plaintiff discharged herself over the advice of Dr. Mendoza. (AR 458-59.) Plaintiff returned to Good Samaritan on March 12, 2007, and in August 2007. She was prescribed psychotropic medications during the course of her March 2007 hospitalization. (AR 436-37.) In August 2007, Dr. Mendoza opined that Plaintiff's prognosis was poor because of noncompliance with treatment. (AR 410.)

On March 17, 2008, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ to provide testimony regarding her disability claim. During the hearing, Plaintiff stated that a normal day consists of sitting around in her room. (AR 51.) Her twenty-year-old son does the grocery shopping. (AR 52.) Plaintiff stated that she occasionally goes to church but does not exercise. (AR 52.) Plaintiff further testified that she sometimes attends her sons' extracurricular activities at school. (AR 56.) Plaintiff testified that she does not have the energy to lift. She estimated that the most she could lift would be ten pounds, but probably could not carry that weight because of dizziness from the medication. (AR 56.) She could sit for two hours and ...

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