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Mary L. Alexander v. Michael J. Astrue

December 4, 2011


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




Mary Alexander ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. On January 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed a complaint (the "Complaint") commencing the instant action. On June 13, 2012, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint (the "Answer"). 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 August 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits under Title XVI. (Administrative Record ("AR") 119). Plaintiff was born on April 18, 1959. (AR at 119). She alleges disability beginning on July 1, 2009, due to morbid obesity, ambulation problems, abdominal hematoma, asthma, bronchitis, and pulmonary saddled embolism. (AR at*fn1 41, 77, 119, 277-80). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's SSI application initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 14-26, 77-81).

Plaintiff requested and participated in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on August 11, 2010. (AR at 34-36, 37-72, 73, 84). At the hearing, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (AR 37-72). On September 11, 2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff to have several severe impairments, but still having the residual functional capacity to perform light work. (AR 14-23). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an insurance clerk, secretary, or data entry clerk. (AR 14-23). On October 1, 2010, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. (AR 118). On November 21, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-6). Plaintiff requested judicial review by filing the instant action.



A. Plaintiff's Medical History

Medical records indicate that Plaintiff presented to Centinela Hospital in July 2009 due to a pulmonary embolism. (AR 273-95). While*fn2 at Centinela, Plaintiff was diagnosed with morbid obesity. (AR 277-80). She was started on a Heparin drip and Coumadin. (AR 277). After being released from Centinela, Plaintiff failed to comply with a Coumadin prescription and deteriorated. (AR 264-72). As a result, Plaintiff was admitted to UCLA Medical Center on July 11, 2009. (AR 265). Upon admission, Plaintiff had a deep edema in the bilateral ankles. (AR 266). A CT scan of the abdomen revealed clots in the left lower pulmonary arterial branches and a large hematoma ranging from the lower chest to the pelvis. (AR 248). An August 2009 CT scan of Plaintiff's chest indicated that the clots were resolving. (AR 231).

Additionally, Plaintiff has also been diagnosed with seasonal asthma. (AR 309-23). However, it appears that the shortness of breath Plaintiff experienced in July 2009 was the result of the pulmonary embolism and not from asthma. (AR 20). Plaintiff was nonetheless advised to avoid working in environments that would aggravate the intermittent breathing difficulties she was experiencing. (AR 20).

Finally, South Bay medical records state that Plaintiff had surgery on her left ankle in October 2009 to repair a fracture, but there is nothing in the record to suggest that Plaintiff has any continuing ankle pain or gait problems. (AR 20). Additionally, Plaintiff was diagnosed with having high cholesterol, but this condition is controlled with medication. (AR 47).

B. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff testified on August 11, 2010, before the ALJ. (AR 37-72). Plaintiff stated that she is unable to work because she "can't sit for a long time" due to severe pain "in [her] back and [her] right hip." (AR 46). She also testified that her arthritis keeps her from working. (See AR 46). Plaintiff is being treated at South Bay Family Health Care for high blood pressure, asthma and bronchitis. (AR 46). She was first treated for a pulmonary embolism on July 1, 2009. (See AR 48-49). Plaintiff drives infrequently, approximately a "[c]ouple times a week." (AR 44). Plaintiff testified that she has decreased her household activities. (AR 51). However, she continues to perform some household chores, as long as she is able to take breaks. (See AR 51-52).

Plaintiff owns three inhalers for her asthma that she uses twice a day. (AR 53-54). The last time she was hospitalized for difficulties in breathing was in 2009, when she received a breathing treatment. (AR 54). She stated that she could stand for about thirty minutes, and would have to sit down six to eight times during an eight-hour day. (AR 54-55). She believes she could only sit for two hours at a time before needing to get up and move. (AR 55). However, Plaintiff stated that she could walk up to three blocks "on a good day." (See AR 55).

C. Vocational Expert's Testimony

On August 11, 2010, vocational expert ("VE") Ms. June Hagan testified at a hearing before the ALJ. (AR 64-72). The VE identified Plaintiff's past relevant work as an insurance clerk, secretary and data entry clerk. (AR ...

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