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Annette Davis v. Michael J. Astrue

August 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge



Annette Davis ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. On March 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint (the "Complaint") commencing the instant action. On June 1, 2011, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint (the "Answer"). On June 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Reply Memorandum in Support of the Complaint (the "Reply"). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


On February 27, 2003, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits under Titles II and XVI. (Administrative Record ("AR") 287-95). Plaintiff was born on July 26, 1964 and was 38 years old at the time she filed her applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI. (AR 287). Plaintiff's initial applications allege disability beginning on March 26, 2000, due to carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. (Id.). Plaintiff's disability insurance benefits and SSI application were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 296-304). Plaintiff then requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that took place on August 17, 2004. (AR 307-19). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled on September 20, 2004. (AR 9-19). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. (AR 4-6). Plaintiff then filed civil action EDCV 05-00821, and the District Court remanded pursuant to sentence four of U.S.C. §405(g)(2011), following the parties' stipulation to remand. (AR 440-54).

On August 22, 2005, Plaintiff filed another application for disability insurance and supplemental security benefits. (AR 345). An administrative hearing was held on November 28, 2006. (AR 359-91). On January 26, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 345-53). On April 14, 2007, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's final decision and remanded the matter consistent with the Court's remand order. (AR 436-39). Another administrative hearing was held on August 30, 2007, after which the ALJ issued a decision again finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 889-906). Plaintiff then filed another civil action in the District Court, EDCV 08-00538. (AR 907-09). On October 20, 2008, the District Court issued a judgment of remand. (AR 938-39).

A further administrative hearing then took place in San Bernardino, California on January 28, 2010 with ALJ David M. Ganly presiding. (AR 1123-49). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (AR 1131-35). A supplemental administrative hearing took place on June 29, 2010, during which Luis O. Mas, an impartial vocational expert, testified. (AR 1150-71). On August 6, 2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 861-71). Plaintiff then requested judicial review by filing this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)(2011).


A. Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff's medical history includes notes from the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health. (AR 203-34, 984-1021, 1088-1107). It also includes various assessments of Plaintiff's physical and mental abilities to do work. (AR 856-57, 1023-25, 1031-32). Regarding Plaintiff's physical ability, on October 29, 2008, a physician completed a "medical opinion" form concerning Plaintiff's ability to do physical work-related activities. (AR 1023-25). The physician noted that Plaintiff had the ability to stand for sixty minutes before changing position, the ability to stand and walk for about four hours with normal breaks during an eight hour day, no limit to her ability to sit with normal breaks during an eight hour day and she would not need to lay down at unpredictable intervals during a work shift. (AR 1023-24). The physician also stated that Plaintiff could occasionally twist, stoop and climb stairs and could never crouch or climb ladders and that these findings were supported by carpal tunnel symptoms. (AR 1024). The physician concluded that the Plaintiff would be absent from work due to impairments or treatment less than once a month. (AR 1025).

Regarding Plaintiff's mental ability, on June 24, 2010, Gurmit Sekhon, M.D., of the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health wrote a letter clarifying his diagnosis of Plaintiff as bipolar and stating that Plaintiff suffered from irritability, paranoia, helplessness and anhedonia, as well as having a history of auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoid ideation, difficulty relating and trusting people, irritability and inability to take care of her needs. (AR 1085). Dr. Sekhon prescribed Plaintiff Ambien, Seroquel, Limbitrol and Zoloft and noted that "without medication, [Plaintiff] would decompensate evidenced by increased depression, anxiety, nervousness, moody spells, [inability] to do chores or stay focused[,][ ]isolation, difficult[y] relating to people and neglect [of] herself, both in her care and her hygiene." (Id.).

Notes from Dr. Sekhon's treatment of Plaintiff, dated March 2, 2003 to June 25, 2010, are also included in the record. (AR 203-220, 984-1021, 1087-1101). The treatment notes document Plaintiff's reported symptoms of mental illness. However, Dr. Sekhon's more recent treatment notes depict an improvement in Plaintiff's mental state provided she maintains ongoing medication ("[symptoms] are well controlled with the medication"). (AR 1087-98). Dr. Sekhon noted on January 4, 2010 that Plaintiff had "[n]o evidence of any agitation or acting out" and "[m]edications are helping her." (AR 1098). On February 5, 2010, Dr. Sekhon again noted "[m]edications help [Plaintiff]." (AR 1096). He also stated that Plaintiff "[r]eported less period[s] of depression, anxiety, irritability, and isolation. Less paranoia . . . No evidence of an agitation or episode of violent or inappropriate behavior." (Id.). He further noted Plaintiff's "[s]leep, appetite, and level of energy are getting better with the medication." (Id.).

Dr. Sekhon noted again during a March 12, 2010 examination that Plaintiff's medications "help her" and she had "less auditory hallucinations of negative nature" and "less feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anhedonia, isolation, and irritability." (AR 1093). On April 16, 2010, Dr. Sekhon noted that Plaintiff had "[n]o agitation. No intrusive behavior . . . Able to relate. Stayed focused." (AR 1090). Dr. Sekhon noted on May 21, 2010, Plaintiff was "alert, cooperative, directable, less anxious, and less distanced" and "[s]leep, appetite, and level of energy are better with medication." (AR 1087).

B. Consultative Exams

Several separate physicians conducted consultative exams of Plaintiff in between 2003 and 2010. (AR 235-40, 242-47, 248-51, 252-65, 266-70, 271, 272, 273, 823-25, 828-36, 1046-50). On April 28, 2003, Dr. Laurence Meltzer conducted an orthopedic evaluation of Plaintiff. (AR 235-40). Dr. Meltzer opined that Plaintiff had "no evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome." (AR 239). He also noted that although Plaintiff "complain[ed] of severe pain with the slightest touch of her wrists, she [did] have full range of motion." (Id.). Dr. Meltzer concluded that Plaintiff did "not have any functional disability from a purely orthopedic standpoint." (Id.).

On May 1, 2003, Dr. Linda Smith conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. (AR 242-47). Dr. Smith did not see "any evidence of any depression that would warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. In addition, she was not at all credible in the formal mental status examination." (AR 247). Dr. Smith noted that for thought processes, Plaintiff was coherent and organized. (AR 244). Plaintiff's thought content was relevant and non-delusional and "[t]here was no bizarre or psychotic thought content. There was no current suicidal, homicidal or paranoid ideation." (AR 245). As a result, Dr. Smith believed that Plaintiff "appeared to be attempting to feign a poor mental status and the problems she portrayed were strikingly inconsistent with the rest of the interview." (AR 247). Dr. Smith concluded that "[f]or these reasons, [she did] not believe that [Plaintiff had] a psychiatric disorder" and Plaintiff did "not appear to be impaired due to a psychiatric disorder." (Id.).

On May 15, 2003, Dr. Larry Havert, a clinical psychologist, completed a Short-Form Evaluation for Mental Disorders concerning Plaintiff. (AR 248-51). Dr. Havert noted that while Plaintiff had "difficulty controlling anger impulses" she also possessed "normal" motor activity and had "cooperative" interview behavior. (AR 248). He concluded that Plaintiff was "marginally stable with periods of depression [and] anger" and was capable of managing funds in her best interest. (AR 250-51).

On May 27, 2003, Dr. Myra Becraft, a psychiatrist, completed a psychiatric review of Plaintiff. (AR 252-65). Dr. Becraft determined that Plaintiff's "allegations [were] not totally credible." (AR 252). Dr. Becraft also determined that Plaintiff had no restrictions of activities of daily living, difficulties in maintaining social functioning, episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration and only mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. (AR 262). Dr. Becraft also completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff. (AR 266-70). Dr. Becraft determined that Plaintiff had no limitations in sustaining an ordinary routine without special supervision, working in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them, maintaining socially appropriate behavior and responding appropriately to changes in the work setting. (AR 266-67). Dr. Becraft ultimately determined that Plaintiff was not credible. (AR 270).

On July 23, 2003, Dr. Donald Williams, a psychiatrist, examined Plaintiff and concluded Plaintiff had "no evidence of depression . . . at all" and Plaintiff "was not credible at all." (AR 271). Dr. Williams also noted Plaintiff "exaggerated and tried to manipulate the outcome of the [mental status] exam." (Id.). On May 12, 2003, Dr. Norman Cooley also examined Plaintiff concerning carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 272). Dr. Cooley determined that Plaintiff had "no evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome or any other impairment." (Id.). On July 24, 2003, Dr. Gwendolyn Taylor-Holmes examined Plaintiff and determined there was "no evidence of [a] severe medically determinable impairment which limits work capacity for a continuous twelve month period." (AR 273). Dr. Taylor-Holmes also completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff. (AR 828-36). In it, she determined that Plaintiff "is partially credible as it relates to symptoms but not to the extent that she is totally disabled" and "the medical evidence does not support a finding of disability." (AR 834).

On November 7, 2005, Dr. K. Gregg completed another Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff. (AR 823-25). Dr. Gregg determined that Plaintiff was not significantly limited in her ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, to maintain socially appropriate behavior and the ability to get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. (AR 823-4). Dr. Gregg noted that ...

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