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Sythell J. Thompson v. Michael J. Astrue

July 7, 2011


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



Plaintiff Sythell J. Thompson ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his 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 filed an application for supplemental security income benefits in March 2007, alleging disability beginning September 1996. AR 102-105. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 62-65, 68-73, 75-76. ALJ Stephen W. Webster held a hearing on February 25, 2009, and issued an order denying benefits on June 22, 2009, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 14-22. On February 23, 2010, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-3.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Webster held a hearing on February 25, 2009, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified; he was assisted by non attorney representative Anthony Gonzales.*fn3

Vocational Expert ("VE") Thomas Dachelet also testified. AR 23-50.

Plaintiff was fifty-four years old at the time of the hearing. AR 26. He is five feet nine inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. AR 27. He is not married and does not have any children. AR 27. He lives in a home with someone else. AR 27. Although he has a driver's license, for the last couple months, Plaintiff's mom has been driving him to the doctor's office or the store, as he has had car trouble. AR 28.

Plaintiff is able to take care of his personal grooming needs without assistance, and occasionally cooks and cleans. He does the laundry and sometimes does yard work. AR 28-29. Plaintiff watches about three to four hours of television a day, and occasionally uses the computer for about a half an hour at a time. AR 29. He visits with family and attends church. AR 29. He does not suffer from any problem that would interfere with his ability to sit or to stand. AR 36.

After earning a bachelor's degree in Industrial Arts, Plaintiff was employed as a teacher. He also holds a contractor's license although he did not attend school to obtain it. AR 30. More particularly, Plaintiff worked as an instructor in industrial arts and physical education. He also coached sports occasionally, such as football and basketball. AR 31. He last worked in this capacity in 1999 at Paso Robles High School. Plaintiff left this last position because he began to experience mental problems: "I couldn't function; I couldn't think straight, I was seeing things, I was hearing things, I was feeling things. And I just left my job after a couple weeks . . .." AR 36.

When Plaintiff was asked what other full time employment, lasting longer than six months, he had held within the previous fifteen years, he indicated that he had no other such work. AR 33. Following his application for benefits in March 2007, Plaintiff worked as a handyman, but the jobs did not even amount to once a week, and he has not performed any handyman work in the previous year. AR 30-31.

Plaintiff suffers from schizoaffective disorder and receives treatment at Fresno County Mental Health. He sees his psychiatrist or attends therapy about every two weeks. AR 34-35. When asked to explain his illness, Plaintiff indicated that he cannot "think straight," has trouble getting along with others, hears voices and believes he is being followed, and has anxiety or panic attacks. AR 35. With regard to the panic attacks, Plaintiff indicated that "[s]ometimes they're frequent, like once a week, sometimes they're spaced out, it varies." AR 35. Plaintiff described the voices as "like a radio, it just starts off just like a radio and it just keeps on going." The voices do not necessarily tell him to do anything, although he does hear his name being called. Now that he attends therapy, he does not do what "they say." AR 35. The medication he has been prescribed helps with the voices, however, the voices do not disappear altogether. AR 35.

Since 1996, Plaintiff has been institutionalized at various locations and facilities, including Atascadero and Patton state hospitals. The longest he stayed in such a facility was about ten months, but he cannot recall the precise year. AR 37. Plaintiff has not required emergency psychiatric treatment since applying for benefits in March 2007. AR 39. Related to his stay at Patton State Hospital, Plaintiff was incarcerated when not institutionalized. On a separate occasion, Plaintiff was incarcerated on a reckless driving conviction. AR 40.

As of March 2006, Plaintiff was receiving regular mental health treatment at Fresno County Mental Health and he continues to receive treatment there. He saw psychiatrist Robert Ensom*fn4 and currently sees Dr. Archimedes Garcia. AR 38-39.

Plaintiff denied a problem with alcohol or drugs, but did indicate that he used to drink socially, but has not had a drink since 1999. Additionally, he has been told by his doctors not to drink given the medications prescribed. AR 40.

VE Thomas Dachelet indicated that Plaintiff's oral and written communication, interpersonal skills, and skills related to teaching, the use of hand tools, power tools, and other measurement tools, are transferable. AR 41.

The VE was asked to consider a hypothetical worker of Plaintiff's age, education and work history, who has no exertional or postural limitations, but who could have only occasional contact with co-workers and the public. AR 41. The VE indicated such an individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 41. If the limitation regarding contact was regarding "in person" contact, the hypothetical worker could perform the work of a telemarketer, sedentary, SVP*fn5 of 3, DOT*fn6 299.357-014, with approximately 25, 270 jobs available in California. AR 41-42. The hypothetical worker could also perform the work of a peddler, SVP of 2, DOT 291.457-018, or salesperson - demonstrator, light work with an SVP of 4, DOT 279.357-038. AR 42-43.

Later, the VE indicated that with regard to the telemarketer position and a limitation regarding contact, of the 12,741 job titles in the DOT, only three involved ...

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