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Rena R. Howard v. Michael J. Astrue

June 16, 2011


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



Plaintiff Rena R. Howard ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for disability and supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Titles II and 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 applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in November 2005. See AR 80-82. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 39-54. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing was held before ALJ Bernard A. Trembly on April 15, 2008. AR 20-34, 55. ALJ Trembly issued a decision denying benefits on May 17, 2008. AR 10-19. Thereafter, Plaintiff timely appealed the decision. AR 8-9. The Appeals Council denied review on March 31, 2010. AR 1-3.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Trembly held a hearing on April 15, 2008, in Bakersfield, California. Plaintiff was present and testified; she was represented by attorney Erica Drake. AR 20-34.

Following graduation from high school, Plaintiff attended about a year of college. AR 26. She was forty-five years old at the time of the hearing. AR 23, 25. Prior to her disability, Plaintiff worked in customer service and collections. Plaintiff did work for a period following her initial application for benefits; however, in 2007, following a hospitalization, she was no longer able to work as her condition had worsened. AR 23-25.

In early 2007, Plaintiff was diagnosed with lupus. AR 26. She is "really fatigued all the time" and suffers from shortness of breath. AR 26. She characterized her illness as "sporadic," indicating she would be "okay one day" and "can't even get out of the bed" the next. AR 26-27. Plaintiff suffers from joint pain from the waist down. Her legs hurt all the time and her ankles and feet swell. AR 27-28. In 2001 and 2003, Plaintiff was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and diabetes. AR 29-30. She continues to be treated for all of these conditions. AR 29-30.

Plaintiff takes a number of pain medications, and also takes medications to treat blood pressure, thyroid disease, and diabetes. AR 27. She indicated that the steroids she was prescribed produced night sweats. AR 30.

Before January 2007, Plaintiff was working as a clerk at a grocery store, stocking shelves and collecting carts from the parking lot. However, she can no longer work due to shortness of breath and the need to rest. AR 28. Also, as a result of the lupus diagnosis and diabetes, she cannot be in direct sunlight. AR 28. Prior to the aforementioned position, Plaintiff also held other positions as a clerk or merchandiser. AR 28-29.

With regard to a position that would allow her to sit behind a desk the majority of the day, Plaintiff explained that she cannot sit for long because her "legs go numb" (AR 29), and therefore she could not perform sedentary work. She can sit for about an hour before needing to get up and walk or move around. AR 30. Plaintiff can walk for an hour and a half or two hours before becoming short of breath. AR 31. Morever, if she lies down too long, she is in pain and if she sits too long she is in pain. AR 31. A sedentary job would cause pain in her legs. AR 31.

Plaintiff also has difficulty concentrating. The pain affects her concentration. AR 31. Plaintiff indicated that she takes a nap every day for about an hour. AR 31. While she suffers from depression, Plaintiff is not currently taking any medication for the condition. AR 31-32. Additionally, Plaintiff indicated that her vision has worsened since 2007 as a result of the lupus. More particularly, she cannot see close up. AR 32-33. She does not drive; her mother drove her to the hearing. AR 28, 32-33.

For pleasure, Plaintiff spends time with her mother and likes to go to the movies. AR 32. She can no longer go walking with her girlfriend. AR 32. On a bad day, she will relax by watching ...

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