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Blancas v. Astrue

September 15, 2010

RAMONA M. BLANCAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT (Doc. 2)

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born in 1949, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a teacher's aide. (Administrative Record ("AR") 1190-91, 1193.) Plaintiff stopped working after injuring her back when a student attacked her in 2000. (AR 544.)

On August 18, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability beginning on July 11, 2003, due to fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, high blood pressure, back pain, and pain in her left elbow, right arm, and legs. (AR 107, 147.)

On December 15, 2005, a state agency consultant assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (AR 562-69.) The consultant opined that Plaintiff could (1) occasionally lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds and frequently up to 10 pounds; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling with the upper and lower extremities. (AR 563.) Plaintiff had no postural, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, but her ability to handle objects was limited. (AR 564-66.)

On January 10, 2006, Glenn Ikawa, M.D., a state agency psychiatrist, completed a psychiatric review technique form, finding Plaintiff's mental impairment not to be severe. (AR 561.) Another state agency psychiatrist, Archimedes Garcia, M.D., affirmed Dr. Ikawa's finding on April 18, 2006. (AR 561.)

On March 13, 2006, Greg Hirokawa, Ph.D., performed a consultative psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. (AR 544-48.) Dr. Hirokawa diagnosed Plaintiff with mild post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder without agoraphobia. (AR 547.) Dr. Hirokawa further opined that Plaintiff's ability to perform various work functions was fair. (AR 548.)

On April 13, 2006, Sadda Reddy, M.D., a state agency physician, assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. (AR 551-58.) Dr. Reddy opined that Plaintiff could (1) occasionally lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds and frequently up to 10 pounds; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform limited pushing and/or pulling with the left arm. (AR 552.) Plaintiff had no postural, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, but was limited to no forceful gripping or grasping with her left hand. (AR 553-55.)

On July 27, 2007, Abbas Mehdi, M.D., a board-eligible neurologist, performed a consultative examination, which included physical and neurological examinations and a review of Plaintiff's medical records. (AR 602-05.) Dr. Mehdi diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from "[c]hronic pain syndrome in multiple areas of the body with neck pain, back pain, leg pain and carpal tunnel syndrome," as well as from psychiatric disorders. (AR 605.) Dr. Mehdi also opined as follows:

From a physical standpoint, [Plaintiff] did not show even minimal objective findings on examination. Her range of motions were [sic] fine. Joints seemed healthy. No muscle atrophy or weakness. No sensory loss. Reflexes are symmetrical. Gait normal. It is possible that [Plaintiff] may be suffering from pain secondary to a reactive depression or from an underlying musculoskeletal condition but there is no objective evidence to support any significant disease.

From a functional standpoint, [Plaintiff] can lift and carry 100 pounds occasionally and 50 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can stand and walk for six hours in an eight hour work day with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] can sit without restriction. No exertional limitations. (AR 605.)

On that same day, Dr. Mehdi also completed a medical source statement regarding the doctor's opinion about Plaintiff's physical ability to do work-related activities. (AR 606-12.) Dr. Mehdi opined that Plaintiff could frequently reach, handle, finger, feel, push, and pull, as well as operate foot controls with both feet. (AR 608.) Plaintiff could also frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (AR 609.) Finally, Dr. Mehdi opined that Plaintiff could (1) perform activities like shopping; (2) travel without a companion for assistance; (3) ambulate without using a wheelchair, walker, or two canes; (4) walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces; (5) use standard public transportation; (6) climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail; (7) prepare a simple meal and feed herself; (8) care for personal hygiene; and (9) sort, handle, and use files. (AR 611.)

On August 7, 2007, Charles Potter, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, completed a report as an agreed medical examiner in Plaintiff's underlying workers' compensation case. (AR 765-78.) Dr. Potter opined that Plaintiff's left arm had lost 50% of its ability to perform fine repetitive motion such as typing. (AR 776-77.) Plaintiff was precluded from using her right shoulder and arm to perform very heavy lifting with repetitive, forceful pushing and pulling. (AR 777.) Wth respect to Plaintiff's thoracolumbar spine, Plaintiff was precluded from heavy lifting and prolonged sitting or weight-bearing. (AR 777.)

The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 87-99.) On February 22, 2008, ALJ Michael Haubner held a hearing where Plaintiff testified that she lived with her retired husband. (AR 1194-95.) Plaintiff drove three to four times a week, cooked twice a day, and was able to care for her own personal needs, such as brushing her teeth and bathing. (AR 1196-97.) Plaintiff washed dishes once daily, shopped three times a month, and attended church twice a week. (AR 1197-99.) Plaintiff also changed her bed sheets, washed laundry, dusted her furniture, and mopped her floor once a week. (AR 1199-1200.) Plaintiff swept her floor at home at least every other day. (AR 1200.)

Although Plaintiff has no hobbies, she watched television daily for four to six hours and read the newspaper weekly for an hour. (AR 1200-01.) Plaintiff spoke daily on the telephone for about five minutes, and she visited her family and friends every two weeks. (AR 1201.) Plaintiff also exercised, doing at least ten sit-ups, and walked for two blocks twice a week. (AR 1202.)

According to Plaintiff, she can lift and carry five to ten pounds. (AR 1202.) Plaintiff is able to sit for about 20 minutes at a time and to stand for ten to 15 minutes at a time. (AR 1202-03.) Because of pain or fatigue, Plaintiff has to lie down for 25 to 45 minutes during an ...


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