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Rivera v. Astrue

September 27, 2010


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



Plaintiff Juanita Rivera ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her 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 her application on December 20, 2005, alleging disability since August 28, 2003, due to degenerative joint disease and an emotional disorder. AR 109-115, 147-153. After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 76-77, 82-86, 88. ALJ Bert C. Hoffman, Jr., held a hearing on July 8, 2008, and issued an order denying benefits on November 3, 2008. AR 19-29, 30-58. On September 8, 2009, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 4-7.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Hoffman held a hearing in Fresno, California, on July 8, 2008. Plaintiff attended the hearing with her representative, Rosemary Sombrana. AR 30.

When questioned by her representative, Plaintiff explained that she is bipolar and schizophrenic because she hears voices. When she is sick, she doesn't know herself and is "completely gone." AR 36-37. She cannot function with her family and cannot work. Plaintiff doesn't go out too much and keeps away from other people. AR 37. She is sometimes argumentative. AR 37.

Plaintiff was going through a divorce, which she believed was in part caused by her illness. Plaintiff has four children. The oldest is 24 and the youngest is 17. AR 40-41. Her children are "all scattered." AR 38. Plaintiff and her husband had separated and reconciled before. AR 38-39. She has not actually initiated divorce proceedings because she cannot afford to do so. AR 42-43.

Plaintiff was living with her parents and receives general assistance. AR 40, 42. She sees her doctor every month and has since August 2007. Plaintiff also received treatment in 2005 and 2006, though at one point she could not afford treatment or medication. AR 42.

Plaintiff testified that she last worked in 2003. AR 45. She helps her parents cook and clean and sometimes goes with her father to the grocery store. Plaintiff drives to her doctors' appointments. She also visits her sister, who is bipolar and schizophrenic, once a week. AR 45-46.

Besides being mentally ill, Plaintiff testified that she has a problem with her joints and that sitting for a long time is "not good" for her. It has been over one year since she has seen a doctor for this because she cannot afford to do so. AR 48.

Plaintiff takes Benedryl and Abilify for sleeping, anxiety and auditory hallucinations and Prozac for depression. The medications work "okay," though Plaintiff still has days when she is really depressed. She estimated that this happens about three days a week. AR 49. Her doctor has told her she should not work. AR 51.

Plaintiff testified that she usually gets up around 10:00 a.m., and then makes coffee and gets dressed. She makes something to eat if she is hungry, watches television or goes outside for a walk. Sometimes she crotchets. AR 52. Plaintiff then helps her mother cook dinner and cleans up the kitchen. AR 53. After dinner, she may crotchet, watch television or walk to visit a friend. AR 54.

Medical Evidence

On September 3, 2005, Plaintiff was admitted to Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital on a 5150 after she was allegedly driving erratically. Plaintiff denied any reason for hospitalization and indicated that family stressors, including a possible divorce and a son in juvenile hall, may have contributed to her aberrant driving. Plaintiff was encouraged to follow up with her physician and was not given any medications. She was diagnosed with brief reactive psychosis and history of treatment for bipolar-affective disorder. AR 237-238.

On September 26, 2005, Plaintiff's family brought her to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation because she hadn't been sleeping and was agitated. On examination, Plaintiff displayed appropriate behavior and denied suicidal or homicidal ideations, or any other psychotic condition. Plaintiff was able to communicate clearly and provide sufficient details during the examination, without providing any reasons for a medical hold. AR 255-256.

On October 27, 2005, Plaintiff was again admitted on a 5150 after she became irrational and threatened to stab her sister with a fork. Plaintiff denied this, though she was quite irritable and uncooperative on admission. Plaintiff had a history of bipolar disorder but had not been compliant with medication. During her hospitalization, she was treated with Zyprexa and required emergency treatments with intramuscular Thorazine or Haldol on several occasions after becoming threatening and violent. Plaintiff eventually became less emotionally labile and less paranoid and was discharged on November 4, 2005. Plaintiff was discharged to Naomi's House because her family refused to take her back home. Her diagnoses were bipolar I disorder, most recent episode manic, severe, without psychotic features. Her GAF was 35 on admission and 50 on discharge. AR 264-301.

Treatment records from Fresno County Mental Health dated January 13, 2006, indicate that Plaintiff's mood was happy and elevated and her affect was congruent. Her speech was pressured. Plaintiff's sleep patterns were normal and she reported medication compliance. She denied hallucinations and suicidal ideations. Plaintiff's memory, abstraction, interpretation and insight were fair. Her judgment was good. Plaintiff had a good fund of knowledge and a GAF of 55. Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The Licensed Social Worker noted that Plaintiff had a "somewhat untypical presentation of a ...

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