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Linda A. Arias v. Michael J. Astrue

January 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Linda A. Arias, by her attorneys, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.) (the "Act"). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' cross-briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sandra M. Snyder, United States Magistrate Judge. Following review of the record as a whole and applicable law, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits to Plaintiff.

I. Administrative Record

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff is insured under the Act through December 31, 2012. On August 15, 2007, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning June 10, 1996. Her claim was initially denied on April 25, 2008, and upon reconsideration on September 19, 2008. Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on October 23, 2008.

Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing on May 5, 2010. In the course of the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 6, 2006. On June 22, 2010, Administrative Law Judge John Cusker denied Plaintiff's application. Plaintiff appealed to the Administrative Council, which denied review on September 18, 2010. On November 22, 2010, Plaintiff filed her District Court complaint.

B. Agency Record

Following graduation from high school, Plaintiff (born February 27, 1951) took classes for five or six years. Later while working for the City of Kingsburg, she took computer and management classes. Plaintiff worked as a secretary for the City of Kingsburg from 1990 to 1996. Beginning in the mid-1990's, Plaintiff had a gap in her employment history which included her first carpal tunnel surgeries and time spent caring for her husband, who was very ill.

In 1999 and 2000, Plaintiff worked as a manager for a mom-and-pop grocery store in the country. In 2001, she began doing "soft-count" for a casino, which involved counting money and tickets from slot machines. Following Plaintiff's second carpal tunnel surgeries, in or about 1996, the casino declined to accommodate her limitations and ended her employment there.

Plaintiff testified that she experienced severe pain in her hands and almost constant fatigue as a result of fibromyalgia. She was able to sleep for only brief time periods since sleep reduced circulation to portions of her body, resulting in intolerable pain. Plaintiff was taking Cymbalta for depression, Synthroid for hypothyroidism, and ibuprofen and Vicodin for pain. By following a strict diet and using medication, Plaintiff was able to avoid needing insulin for her diabetes.*fn1

According to Plaintiff's testimony, she was able to stand for five minutes and to sit for about forty minutes. She could lift about five pounds. She could stoop but not squat. She had poor dexterity, and was unable to open twist tops, pull tabs, and tabs such as those on meat and milk packages. She could not pull the corners of fitted sheets onto the mattress. She could not tie things or cut her own meat. Plaintiff could not manage the weight of a full cup or drinking glass. The vacuum cleaner was almost too heavy to manipulate. She could do light laundry but relied on her adult children to wash towels and sheets. Her daughter prepared supper for Plaintiff and her husband, and cared for Plaintiff's dogs.

Plaintiff was able to shower by herself and brush and comb her own hair. She was unable to pull on her shoes or put on her own bra. She could not hold a curling iron or blowdryer. She could do light cooking such as quesadillas, soup, or sandwiches. Her reading had become limited since books and magazines were too heavy to hold. She watched about ten hours of television each day.

Primary care physician. Plaintiff first consulted her primary care physician, Eric Sorenson, M.D., regarding her pain and sleeping difficulties. At various appointments, Sorenson observed tenderness in Plaintiff's back and legs. He also noted that Plaintiff moved slowly. Sorenson initially considered Plaintiff to be demonstrating joint pain. He referred Plaintiff to various specialists for evaluation and treatment.

Carpal Tunnel Treatment. Sergio Ilic, M.D. performed a second carpal tunnel release on Plaintiff's right hand on October 3, 2005, and on her left hand on March 6, 2006. During follow-up appointments, Plaintiff continued to report severe pain and difficulty using her hands. Ilic noted that physical therapy was helping somewhat but also observed that, although Plaintiff could make a full fist by April 4, 2006, she continued to complain that she was unable to hold anything with either hand. In a September 1, 2006 report to Sorenson, Ilic wrote:

The patient continues to complain of significant pain in both wrists and hands. Nothing seems to have helped.

From an objective point of view, there is no swelling, no effusion, no cellulitis. The patient does not have any signs of [reflex ...

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