The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT
Plaintiff Monica Forsythe ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her 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 Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin, for findings and recommendations to the District Court.
FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS*fn1
Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on February 28, 2008, alleging disability as of that same date. AR 88-91. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 41-52. ALJ Laura Speck Havens held a hearing and subsequently issued an order denying benefits on February 24, 2010, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 10-19. On June 19, 2010, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-3.
ALJ Havens held a hearing on November 18, 2009, in Stockton, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified; she was assisted by attorney Gina Fazio. Vocational Expert ("VE") David Dittmer also testified. AR 20-35.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-five-years old and living in Ceres, California, with her boyfriend. AR 24-25.
Plaintiff received a high school diploma, but cannot read the newspaper. AR 24. She can read street signs and perform simple math: adding and subtracting. AR 24. Plaintiff does have a driver's license, but it was suspended for nonpayment of child support. AR 27. She has used public transportation, but finds it difficult because she has to ask directions. AR 27. For example, she learned to take the bus to counseling because her friends showed her how to do so. AR 29-30.
With regard to previous employment, Plaintiff worked as an in home support services ("IHSS") worker; it is the only position or type of job she has ever held. AR 31. Plaintiff had to ask questions and had to be reminded to give the client her medications as Plaintiff herself would forget. She frequently had to consult the list provided by IHSS or contact a case worker. AR 31.
She could read the list provided by IHSS but the client would have to explain it to her, or her boyfriend would come over and assist her. AR 31-32.
In a typical day, Plaintiff gets up about seven o'clock. She is able to dress and bathe herself and perform chores around the apartment, such as cooking, dishwashing, sweeping, mopping, and laundry. AR 25. She watches about six hours of television a day and exercises for about thirty minutes a day. AR 26. While she does visit family outside the home, Plaintiff does not attend church nor does she have any hobbies. AR 26-27.
Plaintiff sees a psychiatrist at Telecare and has been prescribed Depakote,*fn2 Abilify*fn3 and Buspar.*fn4 She has experienced a side effect from the Depakote: weight gain. AR 28. She sees her psychiatrist about every three months and attends counseling every two weeks or so. AR 28-29. The counselor also visits Plaintiff in her home. AR 29. When she was asked how her depression and learning disability prevent her from working, Plaintiff replied, "[because] I can't comprehend what I do. And I have a hard time comprehending things. So I have to ask and repeat and going to repeat thoroughly again." AR 29.
When asked whether she had any problems sleeping, Plaintiff indicated that she sleeps about five hours a night because she awakes in the middle of the night due to a "chronic back problem." AR 27-28. Plaintiff attributes her back problems to sciatic nerve damage in her lower back as a result of "being abused." AR 30. Exercise helps a little. AR 30. She can sit for "not even an hour" and can walk for about an hour or two before needing rest. AR 30.
Plaintiff did have a problem with drugs previously, methamphetamine being her drug of choice. However, she last used in 2005 and had been clean and sober for almost four years at the time of the hearing. AR 26.
VE Dittmer was asked to assume a hypothetical worker of Plaintiff's age, education and experience, with no exertional limitations, but with the following restrictions:
A fair ability to relate to co-workers, a fair ability to deal with the public, a fair ability to function independently, a fair ability to maintain attention and concentration, a fair ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex and detailed job instructions, a good ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions, a poor ability to use judgment, a poor ability to behave in an emotionally stable manner and a poor ability to relate predictably in the workplace. Fair is - - good is defined as more than satisfactory. Fair is defined as limited, but satisfactory. And poor is defined as seriously limited, but not precluded.
AR 33. The VE indicated such an individual could perform the work of a warehouse worker, DOT*fn5 922.687-058, medium with an SVP*fn6 of two, with a three-quarter reduction for the mental limitations identified, resulting in about 25,000 positions in California. AR 33. Further, the VE indicated such an individual could also perform the work of: (1) a laundry worker, DOT 361.684-018, medium and SVP of two, with a total of 4,500 positions available in California; and (2) a hand packager, DOT 920.587-018, medium and SVP of two, with 14,000 positions available in California. AR 33-34. Only the warehouse worker involved a deviation from the DOT to accommodate the mental limitations identified in the hypothetical question. AR 34.
The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 131-308. The medical evidence will be referenced below as necessary to this Court's decision.
Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 10-19.
More particularly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 28, 2008, the application date. AR 12. Further, the ALJ identified depression, a learning disorder and post traumatic stress disorder as severe impairments. AR 12-13. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined that the severity of the Plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments did not meet or exceed any of the listed impairments. AR 13-14.
Based on her review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: the claimant has a fair ability to relate to co-workers and deal with the public; a fair ability to function independently; a fair ability to maintain attention and concentration; a fair ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex and detailed job instructions. The claimant has a good ability to understand, remember, and carry out ...