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Emma Jo Trowbridge v. Michael J. Astrue

September 21, 2011


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




Emma Jo Trowbridge ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (hereinafter the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") partially denying her applications for Social Security Income benefits ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Agency is AFFIRMED.



Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on April 19, 2004 (Administrative Record ("AR") 160-69), and an application for SSI on April 20, 2004. (AR 135-38). She alleged a disability onset date of April 1, 2002, (AR 135), due to "[a]sthma, breathing problem[s], mass in left lung, migraine, lung disease [sarcoidosis]" (AR 161). The Agency initially denied this claim on February 17, 2005. (AR 108-09).

On April 20, 2005, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of her claim, which the Agency denied on August 18, 2005. (AR 106). Plaintiff then requested a hearing (AR 52), which was scheduled for October 17, 2006. However, Plaintiff failed to appear at the hearing. (AR 56). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") declined to dismiss the hearing and instead continued it to August 6, 2007. (AR 58). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 58, 64-94). On January 25, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision granting benefits starting on March 1, 2006, but found that the evidence did not support benefits prior to that date. (AR 30).

Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council, which denied her request on August 18, 2010. (AR 6-8). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Agency. Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this Court.



Plaintiff was born on May 27, 1967. (AR 135). At the time of her hearing, Plaintiff was forty years old. (AR 58). Prior to her alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff worked as a "secretary" from 1999 and 2000 where she assisted the general manager and the vice president, typed, filed reports, and handled travel arrangements and other scheduling needs. (AR 66, 162). Plaintiff reported that she stopped working when "the pain [she] was feeling would not allow [her] to work." (AR 161). Plaintiff is a high school graduate and has some college education. (AR 65).

A. Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff stated in her Disability Report that she sought treatment from Dr. Robert Thompson primarily for lung problems from April 2002 to August 2004. (AR 163). Dr. Thompson regularly prescribed Plaintiff Advair, Albuterol, and Theophylline for her respiratory issues. (See AR 300-05). In her Disability Report Appeal, Plaintiff reported visiting Dr. Joshua Levy with complaints of body pain and arthritis from August 2005 to October 11, 2005. (AR 173). Plaintiff stated that Dr. Levy prescribed her Tramadol, Tylenol Arthritis, and Darvon for her pain. (AR 175).

On August 19, 2002, a computerized tomograph ("CT") scan of Plaintiff's chest revealed a "1.4 cm spiculated left upper lung mass with associated extensive left hilar and mediastinal adenopathy consistent with primary lung malignancy." (AR 235). Plaintiff was later hospitalized for breathing problems at Granada Hills Community Hospital in November 2002. (AR 164). Dr. Eswar Nyamathi took a biopsy from Plaintiff's left lung by on November 8, 2002. (AR 231). A second biopsy taken on April 18, 2003 by Dr. Nyamathi revealed features of sarcoidosis. (AR 205). A chest x-ray performed on April 16, 2003, along with a CT scan conducted on April 2, 2003 mirrored the findings of the biopsy. (AR 207, 209). The medical record indicates that Dr. Thompson first diagnosed Plaintiff with sarcoidosis on May 14, 2003. (AR 305).

Following Plaintiff's diagnosis with sarcoidosis, she made numerous visits to Granada Hills Community Hospital seeking treatment for various ailments and prescription refills. (AR 251-72). On May 5, 2003, an xray taken of Plaintiff's right foot after she complained of persistent foot pain revealed no significant issue. (AR 277). During another visit on September 26, 2003, Plaintiff complained of pelvic pain. (AR 275). An ultrasound revealed a "6 mm cyst area, with a slightly thickened wall adjacent to the right endometrium probably from a degenerated fibroid." (Id.)

Plaintiff commonly complained of debilitating headaches. (AR 251-55, 260-65). However, an MRI taken on May 24, 2004 showed "no evidence of mass, hemorrhage, or infarct. No abnormal enhancement." (AR 274). Another MRI, taken the same day, of the pituitary gland also returned negative for abnormalities. (AR 273).

Although Plaintiff complained of persistent neck pain, an MRI of her cervical spine taken on November 8, 2004 failed to reveal any severe abnormalities, other than mild central canal stenosis. (AR 247-48). However, on March 8, 2006, a new x-ray of Plaintiff's cervical spine revealed evidence of more severe issues including degenerative disc disease of the lower cervical spine and narrowing of disc space possibly related to disk bulging. (AR 337-41). On July 27, 2006, Dr. Andrew Seltzer performed a "cervical epidural injection" on Plaintiff to relieve pain associated with cervical disc disease. (AR 333).

B. Examining Sources

1. Psychiatric Evaluations

On July 10, 2006, medical student Jennifer Stevenson, performed the first psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. (AR 353-58). The assessment stated that Plaintiff had a GAF of 52. (AR 358). On September 28, 2006, Dr. Olayinka Kamson, a psychiatrist, opined that Plaintiff suffered from major depressive disorder and recurrent post traumatic stress disorder. (AR ...

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