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Imhotep Mustaqeem v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2011

IMHOTEP MUSTAQEEM,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. SammartinoUnited States District Judge

ORDER:

(1) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S JUDGMENT CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff Imhotep Mustaqeem's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 12) and Defendant Michael J. Astrue's cross motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 17 (Mem. ISO Def.'s MSJ)). Also before the Court are the parties' respective oppositions. (Doc. Nos. 18 (Def.'s Opp'n), 19 (Pl.'s Opp'n).) Having considered the parties' arguments and the law, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motionand GRANTS Defendant's cross motion.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 28, 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income. (Doc. No. 10 (Administrative Record (A.R.)), at 92--98.) After denials on initial determination (A.R. 48--51) and reconsideration (A.R. 54--59), Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) (A.R. 61.) At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified on his own behalf. (A.R. 22--40.) A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (A.R. 40--45.) In a written decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied him benefits. (A.R. 10-21.) The decision of the Social Security Administration (SSA) became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (A.R. 1--3.) On August 14, 2009, Plaintiff timely commenced this action seeking judicial review of the SSA's decision. (Doc. No. 1.)

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on November 27, 1959. (A.R. 115.) He claimed to be disabled as of April 1, 2005, due to degenerative heart failure, schizophrenia, and bipolar. (A.R. 121.) According to Plaintiff, his conditions and treatments render him unable to stand for prolonged periods of time, lift more than twenty pounds, stay awake, or concentrate. (A.R. 121.)

1. Medical Evidence

As to physical limitations, consultative examining physician Carl B. Sainten, M.D., opined that Plaintiff could lift or carry one hundred pounds occasionally and fifty pounds frequently, stand or walk for six hours in an eight hour day, and sit for six hours in an eight hour day. (A.R. 314.) Dr. Sainten opined that Plaintiff had no postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. (A.R. 314.) State agency physician R.B. Paxton, M.D., agreed that Plaintiff could stand, walk, or sit for six hours in an eight hour workday, but opined that Plaintiff could only lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. (A.R. 335.) As to postural limitations, Dr. Paxton opined that Plaintiff could occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (A.R. 336.) Like Dr. Sainten, Dr. Paxton opined that Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. (A.R. 336--37.)

As to mental limitations, California Department of Corrections diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder and polysubstance dependence. (A.R. 219.) He was prescribed Risperdal, Prozac, and Remeron. (A.R. 213.) After his diagnosis, Plaintiff repeatedly reported symptoms including auditory hallucinations, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, and depression. (A.R. 212--13, 253--54, 259--60, 317, 458, 461.)

In June 2006, consultative examining physician Mounir Soliman, M.D., observed that Plaintiff was cooperative, alert, oriented, and insightful, with normal capacity for abstract thinking. (A.R. 319.) Plaintiff reported that he managed his personal hygiene and finances, ran errands, cooked, and cleaned. (A.R. 319.) Although Plaintiff reported inability to concentrate on daily activities, Dr. Soliman opined that Plaintiff was able to understand, carry out, and remember simple and complex instructions. (A.R. 319--20.) Dr. Soliman also opined that Plaintiff was able to interact with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public, and withstand the stress and pressures associated with an eight-hour workday. (A.R. 320.) Although Plaintiff's mood was depressed, Dr. Soliman opined that Plaintiff's condition was treatable and manageable with appropriate medication. (A.R. 319--21.)

In 2007, state agency psychiatrist H.N. Hurwitz, M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with schizophrenic, paranoid, or other psychotic disorder; affective disorder; and substance abuse disorder. (A.R. 354--61.) Dr. Hurwitz opined that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and mild restriction of daily activities. (A.R. 362.) Plaintiff had no episodes of decompensation. (A.R. 362.) Dr. Hurwitz opined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to maintain concentration and attention for extended periods, interact appropriately with the general public, carry out detailed instructions, and set realistic goals. (A.R. 365--66.) Otherwise, Plaintiff's capacities for understanding and memory, sustained concentration and persistence, social interaction, and adaptation were not significantly limited. (A.R. 365--66.) Dr. Hurwitz concluded that Plaintiff could perform simple repetitive tasks in a variety of settings, and could relate adequately with co-workers and supervisors, but not with the public. (A.R. 367.)

In 2008, George Flood, M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with schizoaffective disorder, mitral valve disease, and hypertension. (A.R. 590.) Dr. Flood opined that Plaintiff's persistent auditory hallucinations interfered with his ability to concentrate. (A.R. 591.) Plaintiff also exhibited persistent depressed mood with impaired attention to tasks. (A.R. 591.) Dr. Flood opined that Plaintiff had marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and moderate restriction of daily activities. (A.R. 593.) Plaintiff also had four or more episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. (A.R. 593.) Although Plaintiff had experienced some improvement with antipsychotic and antidepressant medication, Dr. Flood opined that the side effects of Plaintiff's medications included drowsiness and fatigue. (A.R. 591.) Dr. Flood opined that Plaintiff's impairments or treatment would cause him to be absent from work more than three times per month. (A.R. 592.) Dr. Flood concluded that Plaintiff was unable to maintain gainful employment due to his schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. (A.R. 593.)

2. Third Party Evidence

Before the hearing, Plaintiff submitted a third party function report from Damian Ball. (A.R. 181--88.) Mr. Ball identified himself as a mental health provider and stated that he had known Plaintiff for six months. (A.R. 181.) Mr. Ball stated that Plaintiff spent time with others and went outside on a daily basis; was able to sweep the floor and do laundry; had no problem with personal care; and managed his own finances. (A.R. 182--84.) However, Mr. Ball stated that Plaintiff had difficulty getting along with others, following instructions, completing tasks, climbing stairs, lifting, walking, talking, seeing, remembering, concentrating, and understanding. (A.R. 186.) Mr. Ball concluded that Plaintiff's paranoia and depression prevented Plaintiff from living a normal functioning life. (A.R. 188.)

3. Relevant Testimony

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified regarding his enrollment at San Diego City College, past work experience, medical conditions, symptoms, and treatment. (A.R. 24--41.) Plaintiff testified that, before the onset of his impairment, he worked as a general laborer and a telemarketer. (A.R. 26.) After the onset of his impairment, he unsuccessfully attempted to work as a telemarketer. (A.R. 26--27.) He also attempted to help out around the hotel where he lived, but he found the work to be "too much" because he was scared of the other hotel residents. (A.R. 27.)

Plaintiff testified that he was receiving treatment at the Veterans Administration. (A.R. 28.) He stated that his medication regimen reduced his auditory hallucinations and paranoia. (A.R. 30--31.) However, he still experienced paranoia and depression three or four days per week. (A.R. 31.) He testified that he went to the Veterans Administration for treatment whenever he felt like he had to, but at least once per month. (A.R. 32.)

Regarding his physical limitations, Plaintiff testified that he experienced lightheadedness and fatigue when he over-exerted himself. (A.R. 34.) He stated that he could stand or walk comfortably for less than an hour at a time, sit comfortably for an hour at a time, and lift ten pounds on a regular basis. (A.R. 34--35.) He testified that he could not work at any job where he had to be at the job eight hours a day, five days a week. (A.R. 35.) Plaintiff testified that he was attending San Diego City College, where he was taking physical education and Arabic. (A.R. 39.) He testified that he took more units outside of the summer term. (A.R. 39--40.) He also testified that he attended at least one and as many as three Narcotics ...


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