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Christina Parra v. Michael J. Astrue

March 2, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Christine Parra ("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 the Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin for findings and recommendations to the District Court.*fn1


Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on November 14, 2006, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2006. AR 108-111. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 72-75, 77-81. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 76. ALJ Sharon L. Madsen held a hearing on April 7, 2009, and issued an order denying benefits on July 1, 2009. AR 12-20. The Appeals Council issued a decision affirming the ALJ's order. AR 1-3.

Hearing Testimony

At the hearing held on April 7, 2009, Plaintiff personally appeared and was assisted by attorney Mr. Jeffrey Milam. AR 21-54. Vocational Expert ("VE") Ms. Judith Najarian also testified.

Plaintiff was thirty-two years old at the time of the hearing. AR 27. She has an eighth grade education and never obtained an GED. AR 30. Plaintiff weighs one hundred and sixty-two pounds and is five feet four inches tall. AR 28. She is married and has two children, ages seven and five.*fn3 AR 28. She lives with her two children and husband in Section Eight Housing and the family is on AFDC. AR 28. She does not have a driver's license and is usually transported to appointments by her husband or a friend. AR 29.

Plaintiff does some of the household chores including cooking and shopping. AR 29. She attends church services every Sunday and also goes to the church once a week on Wednesdays to eat. AR 29. During a typical day, Plaintiff wakes up in the morning, has a cigarette and coffee, takes her medications, and gets her children to school. AR 30. During the day, she watches television, reads the bible, and waits for her children to come home. AR 30.

Plaintiff has a very limited work history. AR 31. In the past, she worked at Wawona Frozen Foods for three weeks. AR 31. Prior to the at time, she worked at Burger King as a cashier in January 1995. AR 31. Plaintiff has had no other jobs other than baby-sitting.

Plaintiff suffers from several physical ailments including asthma which is controlled with inhalers. AR 32. She also suffers from constant back pain which is exacerbated when she engages in activities. AR 33. To treat the pain, she takes Vicodin once or twice a day. AR 34. She also wears a back brace and uses a TENS unit but has had limited success with those treatments. AR 33. Plaintiff can sit for sixty minutes and stand for forty-five minutes. She is able to walk ten blocks but can only lift a gallon of milk. AR 37. She is also able to put on her shoes and socks without difficulty. AR 37. Plaintiff was overweight in the past and she suffers from diabetes which she is able to control with medication and weight loss. AR 42.

In addition to her physical ailments, Plaintiff also suffers from depression and anxiety. AR 34. Approximately three days a week she is unable to get out to bed and does not take a shower. AR 34. Plaintiff isolates herself when suffering from depression. Although she attends church weekly, she is not involved in any activities and has limited contact with other members of the congregation while she is there. AR 35. She is only able to concentrate for thirty minutes at a time and she has difficulty remembering what she has seen on television or has read. AR 35, 40. Her ability to concentrate decreases when she suffers from anxiety attacks and when dealing with stressful situations such as financial difficulties or when her children misbehave. AR 40, 43. As a result of her psychological conditions, she is unable to sit still. AR 35. Plaintiff has had difficulty with aggression in the past and has punched walls but does not do this anymore. AR 35-37. She also suffers from hallucinations daily which include seeing her deceased uncle. AR 36. During these episodes, her uncle talks to her and she also hears birds whistling. 42-43. The hallucinations distract her although not as much as they have in the past. AR 36, 43. She is taking Seroquel to treat the hallucinations and her bipolar disorder. AR 39. She also takes Zoloft and Mirtazapine for depression and Clonazepam to treat her anxiety. AR 38. Some of these medications are new and it is too early to determine whether they are effective. AR 40. Previously she was stabilized on medication but still had periods of decompensation. AR 44-45.

In the past, Plaintiff has also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. She has been clean and sober for four years except that she had one drink in December 2008. AR 36. She graduated from Fresno New Connections and she currently attends Alcoholics Anonymous. AR 37-38.

Ms. Najarian, the VE also testified at the hearing. AR 45-51. She was asked to consider a hypothetical worker with Plaintiff's educational and work history who has no exertional limitations but must have limited exposure to dust, gases, and fumes. The worker is also limited to simple routine tasks with occasional exposure to the public. AR 46. The VE indicated this person would be able to work as packing machine operator, a carrier packer, and a cake striper. AR 46-47.

The VE was asked to consider a second hypothetical for an individual with the same characteristics of the above hypothetical except that the worker could only perform sedentary work and was limited to simple routine tasks. AR 47. The VE indicated that the above jobs would still be available. AR 47.

The VE was asked to consider a third hypothetical in which an individual could only perform light work and simple routine tasks and also could only have limited exposure to the public. AR 48. The VE testified that positions as a sub assembler, a sewing machine operator, and a price marker would be available. AR 48.

When asked to consider a fourth hypothetical that included the same restrictions as hypothetical three, but also added an inability to concentrate for more than thirty minutes at a time, the VE indicated that no jobs would be available. AR 48.

Plaintiff's attorney asked whether any jobs would be available to an individual with mild to moderate limitations in: 1) the ability to function independently; 2) the ability to complete a normal workday and work without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; 3) the ability to work at a consistent pace; 4) the ability to interact with co-workers; 5) and the ability to withstand the stress of a normal workday. In addition to these mild to moderate limitations, the individual also possesses mild limitations in her ability to: 1) deal with changes in the work setting; 2) sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision; 3) perform activities within a schedule; 4) maintain regular attendance and be punctual; 5) accept instructions from a supervisor and respond appropriately to criticism; ...

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