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Linda Halford v. Michael J. Astrue

March 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Linda Halford ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for supplemental security income benefits 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 Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


Plaintiff initially filed an application for supplemental security income benefits on December 1, 1998. AR 82. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 82. She requested and administrative hearing and Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Rocklin Lyons denied her application on September 26, 2000.*fn3 AR 82-87.

Plaintiff filed a second application for supplemental security benefits on May 24, 2004. AR 58. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, but withdrew her request. The denial became final on May 4, 2004. AR 58.

Plaintiff filed a third application for supplemental security benefits on September 15, 2006. AR 61. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 70. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 101. ALJ Christopher Larsen held a hearing on April 17, 2009, and issued an order denying benefits on June 30, 2009. AR 7-17. Thereafter, on September 11, 2009, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-3.

Hearing Testimony

On April 17, 2009, ALJ Larsen held a hearing in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified. She was represented by attorney Melissa Proudian. Vocational Expert ("VE") Thomas Dachelet also appeared and testified. AR 50-53.

Plaintiff is a forty-three year old, single, female. She has three grown children and currently lives alone. AR 25. Plaintiff did not complete high school and has not received a GED.*fn4 AR 27. In 2003, she obtained a certificate for vocational training in retail sales but never worked in the field. AR 28.

Plaintiff last worked in 1998 for eight months as a housekeeper.*fn5 AR 28-29. She quit this job because she experienced pain in her legs, arms, and lower spine. AR 31-32. Prior to that time, she worked full-time as an in home care aide for a period of approximately two years. AR 29-30. Both of these jobs required that Plaintiff lift between ten to twenty pounds. AR 29-30.

Plaintiff does not believe she is capable of working full-time because she experiences constant pain in her neck, back, arms, and legs. AR 31. She also has numbness in all her arms and legs. AR 32. The back pain started in 1991. AR 41. She had one epidural at that time, but it did not relieve the pain. AR 42. Plaintiff indicates her pain currently ranges between a seven and eight on a ten point scale. AR 34-35.

The pain prevents Plaintiff from bending over. She also suffers from higher levels of pain for three to four days if she lifts more than two or three pounds. AR 36. She is able to sit in a chair for forty-five minutes to an hour, but then needs to lay down for the rest of the day. AR 36-37. She is only able to stand for ten minutes and can only walk one-half of a city block. AR 38. She has had physical therapy in the past, but it was not effective. AR 41-42. Although she has been tested for "a lot of things" she believes that her immune system is "attacking itself." AR 31. Doctors have not given Plaintiff a diagnosis, but fibromyalgia and polymyalgia have been ruled out. AR 42.

Plaintiff was taking Prednisone to treat her immune system for about a year. AR 40. She has also been taking Soma to treat her back pain "on and off" for approximately two years. AR 38-39. The Soma decreases the lower back pain, but does not help with her neck pain. AR 39. The Prednisone relieves the muscle aches and the throbbing pain. AR 40. Plaintiff does not experience any side effects from either medication. AR 39. Plaintiff has never used a TENS unit and surgery has never been performed. AR 41-42.

In addition to the pain, Plaintiff also experiences fatigue at least four times per week. AR 32, 42-43. She lays down twelve hours a day if she does not have any appointments. AR 44-45. She began taking Prednisone most recently to help combat the fatigue. AR 44. Plaintiff believes that certain foods trigger both her fatigue and pain, but doctors are still in the process of determining whether there is a causal connection. AR 44-45.

Plaintiff also suffers from depression, however, she takes Paxil which relieves most of her symptoms. AR 47-50. She currently is not receiving any additional mental health therapy or treatment. AR 47. She is able to concentrate for two hours at a time when taking her medication. AR 50. In the past, Plaintiff has also struggled with substance abuse. AR 32-33. She last used crack cocaine in 2007, but she has never had a problem with alcohol. AR 33. She currently has one beer about once a month. AR 33.

With regard to daily activities, Plaintiff is able to dress and bathe herself. AR 47. She also cooks small meals and does the dishes "a little." AR 46. She cleans the house with the assistance of her sister, but she does not vacuum, mop, or sweep. AR 46. She also goes shopping with her sister about once a month AR 46. Plaintiff does not engage in any social activities, and has no friends that she sees on a regular basis. AR 47. For fun, she watches television three to four hours a day and reads approximately one to two hours a day. AR 47.

VE Dachelet testified at the hearing. The VE was asked to assume a hypothetical worker of Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience who can perform light, unskilled work that is limited to simple repetitive tasks with limited public contact. AR 51. The VE indicated that such a worker could perform Plaintiff's past work, as well as many other unskilled jobs ranging from sedentary to light work. AR 52.

In a second hypothetical, the VE was asked to consider the same worker except that this individual would only be able to stand and walk a total of two hours and sit a total of three hours in an eight hour day. AR 53. The VE indicated there would be no jobs available for a person with these limitations. AR 53.

Medical Record

Plaintiff has been examined and treated at Bautista Medical Group ("BMG"), Fresno County Mental Health Department, Sequoia Community Health Center, and University Medical Center. The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court (AR 203-354), however, only those medical records pertaining to Plaintiff's physical impairments and pain will be addressed as this is the sole issue presented on appeal.

Clinic Reports and Laboratory Results

Bautista Medical Group

Plaintiff's treatment at BMG began on June 17, 2004, when she was treated for back pain she had been experiencing "for months." AR 303-304. Plaintiff reported Soma, Vicodin and Tylenol 3 helped relieve the pain. AR 303. At the time of the examination, Plaintiff was taking 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen. AR 303. The nurse practitioner opined that Plaintiff had chronic back pain and prescribed Neurontin and Ultram. AR 304. He also recommended that Plaintiff's prescription for Vicodin, Tylenol 3 or Soma "NOT" be refilled. AR 304. Instead, Plaintiff was advised she should go to a pain specialist if her condition did not improve. AR 304.

On October 27, 2004, Plaintiff was seen for complaints of back pain, numbness in her hands, and losing her balance. During the visit, Plaintiff stated that her lower back pain began in 1998, while stocking a "heavy rack" and that she re-injured it in 2003 while stocking clothes. The physician prescribed Vicodin for pain. AR 301.

On November 22, 2004, Plaintiff returned to the clinic with continued complaints of back pain and was again prescribed Vicodin. AR 298-300. The physician opined that Plaintiff had chronic lower back pain. AR 298. He recommended an MRI and treatment at a pain control clinic, as well as the use of a hand cane. AR 300. On November 30, 2004, the MRI revealed ...

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