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Thomas v. Astrue

August 17, 2010


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



Plaintiff Jacob Keith Thomas ("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 Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff filed his application on January 18, 2007, alleging disability since January 17, 2007, due to mental problems. AR 104-112, 121-127. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 56-59, 64-68, 70. ALJ Bert C. Hoffman, Jr., held a hearing on March 29, 2009, and denied benefits on April 17, 2009. AR 5-15, 16-43. The Appeals Council denied review on August 7, 2009. AR 1-4.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Hoffman held a hearing on March 29, 2009, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared with his attorney, Robert D. Christensen. AR 16.

Plaintiff testified that he was 27 years old at the time of the hearing. He graduated high school and was currently taking two classes, soil science and multicultural counseling, at Porterville College. He has about 90 units and a 1.9 GPA, though he's been working hard over the last two years to improve his grades. In the past two years only, his GPA is about a 3.0 and he's completed 20 units. The soil science class is two days per week, as is the multicultural class. Each class is about two hours and the lab for soil science is about three hours. AR 20-21. He is therefore in class four days a week, for a couple of hours a day. AR 27. School is a "driving force" in his life and his life "kind of centers around it." He explained that he failed so many times in the past and is very proud of the fact that he is now passing classes. AR 28.

Plaintiff was not taking more classes because he would rather take fewer classes and pass. He did not think he could handle more classes because of the problems he has with organization and memory. He would get overwhelmed and fail. Plaintiff explained that when he gets up in the morning, he has a list taped to the shower that says, "shampoo hair, wash entire body with soap, get out and dry myself." If he doesn't have this written down, then he "wouldn't do them well enough." AR 27. When he gets out of the shower, he has a list that says, "put gel in hair, shave, brush teeth, gargle with mouthwash, put on deodorant, put on cologne." Without the checklist, Plaintiff would get distracted and forget what he needed to do. He would be late to school and wouldn't be clean. AR 28

Plaintiff worked last semester at the swap meet in Porterville. He worked on Saturdays, from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., watching the parking lot for security purposes. He was fired from the position after he was late twice. AR 21-22. Prior to that position, Plaintiff had been looking for work for about one and a half years but was unable to find a job. AR 22. Plaintiff was previously a dishwasher at Denny's for about five days. AR 22-23. He also worked as a tree trimmer over the summer in 1999 and as a resort driver for a few months in 2001. AR 24. Currently, Plaintiff has been trying "really hard" to find work. AR 30.

Plaintiff testified that he last used drugs when he started drug court in February or March 2003. He was actually clean for three years before that, but relapsed, got caught and ended up in drug court. AR 23-25. Plaintiff was hospitalized in 2002 after he started hearing voices and developed abnormal patterns of thought. AR 25. His symptoms have subsided recently and he's dealt with them long enough to know that they aren't permanent. He has to monitor himself very closely to avoid flare-ups. Plaintiff was taking Zyprexa, an antipsychotic, and Xanax. Zyprexa decreases the intensity of the voices and headaches. AR 26. He has been doing pretty well lately and testified that when he sees his doctors and takes his medicine, he has considerably less symptoms. AR 26. Plaintiff is worried, however, that he may not have the money to keep seeing his doctors. AR 26-27.

In addition to classes, Plaintiff testified that his homework varies depending on his classes. Plaintiff has ADD and has to take his medication so that he can read and take in the information. Sometimes he has to study for three hours, but he cannot study at all if he doesn't have his medication. He uses a laptop to do his school work. AR 29.

Plaintiff lives in a room in his mother's house but does not have money to support himself. Last semester, he lost electricity and had to do his homework by candlelight. AR 31.

Plaintiff has a four year old daughter who splits her time with Plaintiff, his mother and her mother, Celeste. He still sees Celeste a few times a week and they often clean the house and take care of their daughter. AR 31-32. Plaintiff takes his daughter to the park, plays with her on the computer and helps her write her name. He feeds her and sometimes picks her up from preschool. When she was a baby, he and Celeste lived together and took care of her together. AR 32.

Plaintiff cleans his room on a regular basis and sometimes mows the lawn. AR 34.

Plaintiff currently sees Dr. James, a family physician, who gives him the medication for his schizophrenia. He doesn't talk to Plaintiff and try to figure out his mental problems, like a psychologist would. AR 35.

Plaintiff explained that he has trouble concentrating on things because his mind wanders a lot. He thought that he could focus for a few minutes at a time. When he reads for school, he is not focused the whole time and he has learned to read "in a dreamlike state." He medicates himself before class so that he can focus for the two hour period. AR 36. He can't be on the medication all the time, however, because of side effects. AR 36-37.

Plaintiff still has days when he can't function well all the time, i.e., 5 days a week. He has learned to deal with this by staying in bed. AR 37-38. When he has his daughter, however, he always makes sure that she has food, and is clean, happy and learning. When she goes to bed, he is able to rest again. AR 39. He explained that he goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. and sleeps until morning. If he still isn't feeling well, he'll go back to bed and sleep all day. AR 38. If he has to take care of his daughter, he'll get up by 4:00 p.m. to pick her up and take care of her the rest of the day. AR 39.

Plaintiff explained that he could not work because when his symptoms start to manifest themselves, he tries to keep working and do everything right, but he ends up forgetting something or getting to work late. AR 40.

Medical Record

On July 31, 2003, Plaintiff was admitted to Aurora Vista del Mar Behavioral Health Care on a voluntary basis because he was psychotic and had a violent episode. AR 259. At the beginning of his stay, he was very psychotic, having ideas of reference from the television and auditory hallucinations with other delusional beliefs. His affect was inappropriately giddy and he became somewhat assaultive towards other patients when he argued that he was hospitalized because of a conspiracy. As his medication doses were adjusted, his psychotic belief subsided and his mood stabilized. He was discharged on August 12, 2003, with diagnoses of schizophrenic disorder and methamphetamine abuse in early full remission. He was taking Depakote and Risperdal. AR 259-261.

On August 18, 2003, Plaintiff began treating with Dr. James. Treatment notes indicate that Plaintiff was in a psychiatric clinic for one week after he "tore up his room" and "felt anger." Dr. James diagnosed Plaintiff with depression and instructed him to follow up with his psychiatrist. AR 199.

Plaintiff treated with psychologist Dr. Geshuri intermittently beginning in September 2003. He stopped treatment in late 2004 and resumed therapy in November 2005. Plaintiff was being treated for a mood disorder, depression and anxiety. AR 160-169.

On January 4, 2006, Dr. Geshuri noted that Plaintiff was depressed and hearing voices. He had stopped going to drug court. Notes from January 10, 2006, indicate that Plaintiff ...

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