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Anthony Allen Brown v. Michael J. Astrue

March 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Anthony Allen Brown ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


Plaintiff was born in 1958, completed the 12th grade, and previously worked as a care provider and general laborer, including performing such jobs as washing cars, housekeeping, and yard work. (Administrative Record ("AR") 36-37, 140, 143.) On December 20, 2007, and January 4, 2008, respectively, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning on December 10, 2007, due to mental problems, stress, and arthritis in his hands. (AR 105-16, 139.)

A. Relevant Medical Evidence

Between June 5, 2007, and October 6, 2007, Plaintiff was seen for psychiatric treatment while he was an inmate at the California Department of Corrections ("CDC"). (AR 201-20.) Plaintiff was self-referred and reported that he was "hearing voices" and could not sleep. (AR 217, 219.) Plaintiff indicated that he "need[ed] med[ication] A.S.A.P." (AR 219.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features and was prescribed the generic medication of Abilify, Celexa, and Remeron. (AR 207, 220.) The medical notes indicate that Plaintiff became psychiatrically "stable" on medication. (AR 211, 212, 217.)

On January 19, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by J.K. Zhang, Psy.D., for a psychological evaluation. (AR 166-68.) Dr. Zhang conducted a clinical interview and indicated that Plaintiff "demonstrate[d] below-average level of cognitive functioning with somewhat impaired memory and attention." (AR 166, 168.) Dr. Zhang noted that Plaintiff reported he "suffer[ed] from auditory hallucinations of someone telling him to be careful. He is paranoid as a result." (AR 168.) Dr. Zhang stated that Plaintiff had "served one prison term from 2006 to 2007" after being "convicted of possession of cocaine" and was "currently on parole." (AR 167.) The Parole Outpatient Clinic prescribed Remeron and Seroquel for Plaintiff. (AR 167.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and antisocial personality disorder. (AR 168.) Dr. Zhang recommended that the treatment with psychotropic medication be continued. (AR 168.) Dr. Zhang opined that Plaintiff was "expected to have moderate level of difficulty sustaining adequate concentration, persistence, and pace in common work and social settings. His capacity to interact appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers may be compromised at times." (AR 168.) Further, Plaintiff's "ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex instruction [was] limited." (AR 168.)

On April 27, 2008, Plaintiff underwent a comprehensive internal medical evaluation by Emanuel Dozier, M.D. (AR 169-73.) Dr. Dozier noted that there was "no acute joint inflammation or effusion" of Plaintiff's extremities, although there was "local tenderness over the metacarpophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints of both hands." (AR 171.) Dr. Dozier conducted range of motion testing, and found that Plaintiff's fingers and thumbs had "[f]lexion/extension of the proximal phalanx 70 degrees and distal phalanx 90 degrees bilaterally." (AR 172.) Further, Plaintiff's motor strength was "5/5 in the upper and lower extremities bilaterally" and grip strength was "5/5 bilaterally." (AR 172.) Dr. Dozier indicated a medical impression of "[d]egenerative arthritis, as evidenced by local joint pain, tenderness, and limited range of motion" and "mild, persistent, bronchial asthma." (AR 172.) Dr. Dozier provided a functional assessment and opined that Plaintiff could lift and carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently "with limitations due to arthritis and asthma," and would be limited to "occasional bending, stooping, crouching, pushing, and pulling," as well as "occasional reaching, handling, feeling, and grasping." (AR 172.)

On May 16, 2008, Pamela L. Kammen, M.D., conducted a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment.*fn2 (AR 174-78, 193-95.) Dr. Kammen indicated that Plaintiff was limited to lifting 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, sitting, standing, and walking six hours in an eight-hour day, and occasionally climbing, stooping, and crouching. (AR 175-76.) Dr. Kammen indicated that Plaintiff was unlimited in his ability to push/pull, and had no manipulative or visual limitations. (AR 175-76.) The only environmental limitation indicated was that Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc. (AR 177.)

On May 29, 2008, Robert Y. Hood, M.D., conducted a psychiatric review and mental RFC assessment. (AR 179-92.) Dr. Hood indicated that Plaintiff was mildly limited in social functioning and moderately limited in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, but had no limitations with regards to activities of daily living. (AR 187.) Dr. Hood also found that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions. (AR 190.) Dr. Hood noted that Plaintiff had been "recently released from [the CDC] after serving time for cocaine infractions. There is little medical evidence of record in the [CDC] records related to mental health services." (AR 191.) Dr. Hood indicated that Plaintiff had "requested [a] consult before his discharge [from the CDC] for 'voices.' No other behavioral notes [were] in [the] file." (AR 191.) Dr. Hood opined that the "description of psychosis is vague and generalized. The severity is not supported by impaired activities of daily living (ADL) [or] social functioning. The concentration, persistence and pace may be limited to simple routine repetitive tasks." (AR 191.) Dr. Hood's RFC assessment indicated that Plaintiff could "[u]nderstand and remember simple and some detailed tasks," "[c]arry out simple tasks for a normal workweek," maintain "[l]imited public contact," and had "[n]o significant limitations." (AR 192.)

On August 13, 2008, Lavanya Bobba, M.D., conducted a case analysis and affirmed the findings of Dr. Kammen and Dr. Hood. (AR 196-97.) Dr. Bobba noted that Plaintiff alleged that he was "unable to use his right arm," but there had been "no treatment" of that condition. (AR 196.)

B. Administrative Hearing

The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 63-67, 68-72, 73, 101.) On April 26, 2010, ALJ John Heyer held a hearing in which Plaintiff and vocational expert ("VE") Kenneth Ferra testified. (AR 33-53.)

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff testified that he was 52 years old on the date of the hearing and lived with his aunt. (AR 36, 44.) Plaintiff stated that he could not remember when he last worked but his previous jobs included working as a car washer, housekeeper, care provider, and general laborer. (AR 36-37.) Plaintiff said that he was unable to work because he was "always depressed," had a "bad knee," and had arthritis in his right hand. (AR 37.) Plaintiff indicated that he was in "a little" pain, which was worse in his right knee and rated at "eight" out of a "pain scale of one to ten." (AR 46.) Plaintiff stated that he did not know what was wrong with him mentally, but believed that he had been given medication for bipolar and schizophrenic conditions. (AR 42.) He also indicated that he would "[s]ometimes . . . hear voices" and was "always depressed." (AR 42.) Plaintiff was taking three psychiatric medications that helped a "little bit," and was taking over-the-counter Tylenol to treat his knee and hand pain. (AR 37-38, 41.)

Plaintiff indicated that he did not know how his medical conditions limited his ability to work, but stated that he did not like to be "around a lot of people" because he would hear voices and believed that people were talking about him. (AR 42.) Plaintiff said that he did not know if he could work at an "assembly job" because he had "never tried it." (AR 43.) Plaintiff stated that he attempted to get a job "passing out fliers" when he first got out of prison, but that the employers were not hiring. (AR 43.)

Plaintiff indicated that his daily activities consisted of personal grooming, watching television, sitting outside with his aunt, and eating meals. (AR 39.) Plaintiff did not perform any household chores, yard work, or shopping. (AR 39.) Plaintiff stated that he could lift approximately ten to fifteen pounds, could only walk and stand for a "couple of minutes," and could sit for "about an hour." (AR 40.) Plaintiff said he could walk "[a]bout 55, 75 feet" and then would need to rest. (AR 47.) Plaintiff said that he would "sometimes" have trouble putting on his shoes. (AR 48.) Plaintiff was able to attend church since it "don't last but an hour," and would get exercise by walking "to the mailbox and back." (AR 48.) Plaintiff had a history of substance abuse but testified that he had not used cocaine in "about nine years" and had only been selling, but not using, cocaine at the time of his arrest and incarceration. (AR 38-39.)

Plaintiff indicated that he was staying with his aunt, would help her out for money, and was providing services for rent. (AR 49.) Plaintiff said, however, that he could not work for someone else because he "then [he would] have to go somewhere, and . . . [he] can't ...

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