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Monica L. Quinonez v. Michael Astrue

February 3, 2012


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


Plaintiff Monica L. Quinonez, proceeding in forma pauperis, by her attorneys, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI 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 a review of the complete record and applicable law, this Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based on proper legal standards.

I. Administrative Record

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff previously applied for SSI benefits, which were denied at the initial level in or about 1993 and 1997; in 1999, benefits were denied following an administrative hearing. On February 11, 2008, Plaintiff again filed a SSI application, alleging disability beginning August 14, 2007. Her claim was denied initially on May 13, 2008, and upon reconsideration on September 25, 2008. On October 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.

Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing on March 4, 2010. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her disability onset date to February 11, 2008. On April 15, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Regina Sleater denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied review on August 19, 2010. On November 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking this Court's review.

B. Factual Record

Plaintiff (born January 25, 1958) left school in the eleventh grade. In recent years, she worked at Dollar Tree and Big Lots, straightening stock and cleaning. She also worked at Burger King cleaning and doing light cooking. Plaintiff never worked as a cashier or counted money. She briefly worked as a hotel housemaid. All of her jobs were less than full time. Plaintiff could not recall what kind of work she did in the 1990's. She left her last job because she was embarrassed by having to go to the bathroom frequently.

Plaintiff lived in her brother-in-law's home. Her sons drove her to doctor's appointments since she experienced panic attacks on buses. Plaintiff had been separated from her husband for many years but had not divorced.

Plaintiff testified that she had hepatitis C and depression. She also experienced brief headaches and low back pain, which she thought was arthritis. She testified that she also had a hole in her ear drum, for which surgery had been ineffective. Her medications included Tramadol, Paxil, Nexium, Nasacort, Tylenol, hydrocortisone ointment, sea oyster, vitamins, and ear drops.

On a typical day, Plaintiff slept until about 10:00 a.m., since her medications made her drowsy. Upon rising, she showered and ate a small breakfast. (Plaintiff testified that eating small, light meals ameliorated her need to frequently use the bathroom, which was caused by nerves.) After watching a little television, Plaintiff lays down. She could not read because she had trouble concentrating. Plaintiff testified that she had no friends or pets. Her three sons were adults with their own lives.

Two of Plaintiff's three sons, Victor Esquivel and Theodoro Quinonez III, wrote letters in support of Plaintiff's SSI application. Esquivel reported Plaintiff's nerve disorder and anxiety, which had been exacerbated by the diagnosis of Hepatitis C. Quinonez stated that Plaintiff, who struggled with depression, anxiety, and a nerve disorder, was unable to maintain a job and struggled with socializing. She cried "constantly."

Dr. Singer. Psychiatrist Thomas Singer reviewed the agency record before providing expert testimony at the March 4, 2010 hearing as an agency consultant. He testified that, although various labels had been applied to Plaintiff's depressive symptoms over the years, all diagnoses were tantamount to depression. Singer opined that none of Plaintiff's symptoms met or equal listing criteria. Although he opined that Plaintiff's mental disorder resulted in mild to moderate limitations, he added that because the medical record was so "thin" and included no record of treatment within the prior two-and-a-half years, his opinion had very little basis.

Community Medical Center. Plaintiff's anxiety improved with medication. Lab test results dated September 28, 2007, confirmed that Plaintiff tested positive for hepatitis C. Plaintiff was also anemic.

University Medical Center. Physicians at University Medical Center diagnosed anemia, heartburn, Hepatitis C, and depression. Plaintiff had chronic sinusitis, lower abdominal pain, and chronic diarrhea.

Dr. S. Damania. Psychiatrist Shireen Damania, M.D., examined Plaintiff as an agency consultant. She observed that Plaintiff provided a vague medical history. Plaintiff demonstrated no difficulties in hearing normal speech. Plaintiff reported that she had taken no medications for the last two or three months, after her medications were stolen from her apartment. Damania diagnosed:

Axis I Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood Axis II No diagnosis Axis III Hepatitis C, by history Axis IV Level of Psychosocial Stressors -- Mild (unemployed)

Axis V GAF Current= 61. Highest past year = 61 AR 222.*fn1 Damania summarized: The claimant was pleasant and cooperative, with good interpersonal and social skills. No difficulties were noted in memory, concentration, persistence, and pace. There was no evidence of emotional lability or deterioration.

She is able to understand, carry out and remember three- and four-step job instructions in a work-like setting. She is able to respond appropriately to co-workers, supervisors, and the public. She is able to respond appropriately to usual work situations and deal with changes in a routine work setting with normal supervision.


Dr. R. Damania. Internist Rustom Damania, M.D., examined Plaintiff as an agency consultant. He observed no abnormalities. Damania opined:

The patient is a 50-year-old female. The patient should be able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The patient should be able to stand and walk without restriction. The patient should be able to sit without restriction. The patient does not require an assistive device for ambulation. No postural ...

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