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Sherrie L. Moon v. Michael J. Astrue

June 20, 2012

SHERRIE L. MOON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER AFFIRMING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND ORDERING JUDGMENT FOR COMMISSIONER

Plaintiff Sherrie L. Moon, 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 March 30, 2012. On October 3, 2007, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning January 12, 2007. Her claim was initially denied on April 4, 2008, and upon reconsideration, on July 30, 2008. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing on December 22, 2009. On January 15, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Sharon L. Madsen denied Plaintiff's application. Plaintiff appealed to the Administrative Council, which denied review on September 17, 2010. On November 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed her District Court complaint.

B. Agency Record

Plaintiff (born November 7, 1965) appeared at the agency hearing without representation. She testified that she lived in a trailer with her daughter and disabled son, aged 20 and 14. She needed to move since it had steps and a very low toilet from which she could not get up. She supported herself on food stamps and aid for her 14-year-old child.

Plaintiff completed high school and some community college. She had a certificate from the security academy. Plaintiff had a driver's license and was able to drive. She had previously worked in retail sales as a cashier and in customer service.

Either Plaintiff's sister or one of her best friends came to her home daily to help Plaintiff, who had difficulty getting in and out of the shower and who was unable to lift her arms high enough to put on her wig when her shoulder pain was bad. Plaintiff had lost her hair as a result of stress. She did no household chores although she sometimes warmed food in the microwave or made some soup. She went out occasionally and tried to go to church when she could. Plaintiff tried to remain inside when the weather was cold since cold temperatures aggravated her fibromyalgia. She generally spent her days napping and watching television.

Plaintiff, who was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 243 pounds, attributed her recent substantial weight gain of about fifty pounds to cortisone shots. Plaintiff testified that she was receiving cortisone shots every two weeks for pain. Although her knees swelled badly, she was reluctant to take the diuretics prescribed for her, explaining that she was embarrassed when she was unable to reach a bathroom in time. Plaintiff had severe pain in her knees, back, and shoulders. She experienced severe back spasms. She also experienced leg spasms if she sat for more than twenty minutes at a time. She feared that she would end up like her mother, whose legs had been amputated because of poor circulation.

Plaintiff took Vicodin and Lorcet, which only "took the edge off" her pain, but she was afraid to take OxyContin. If she laid down to relieve her pain, her stiffness increased, causing more pain. Because she had recently begun to experience frequent falls, her doctor had prescribed a walker. Plaintiff could walk further with her walker but was embarrassed to use it. She also used a cane.

Plaintiff's skin was frequently so sensitive so that she could not tolerate heavy clothing or even human touch. She also had severe acid reflux.

Plaintiff thought she could sit for twenty minutes and stand for twenty to thirty minutes. She tried not to lift at all. She sometimes had difficulty remembering what she had watched on television.

Plaintiff had been unable to pursue treatment for her depression and anxiety because she was unable to sit and wait at the mental health clinic. She had panic attacks and was very frightened when driving.

Disability Report. Although on other occasions Plaintiff said that she voluntarily left her job following the death of her father, on her disability report, Plaintiff stated that she was terminated from her prior job on January 20, 2007, for disability-related behavior. (The record includes evidence of California state disability payments in 2007.) Plaintiff reported that she had back and leg pain, took many medications, and heard voices.

In a disability report dated October 18, 2007, Plaintiff explained that she was afraid to sleep because the house might catch fire or she might not wake up. She depended on her sister to cook, perform housework, pay Plaintiff's bills, and remind Plaintiff to put on make-up and take her medicine. When her sister did not cook for Plaintiff and her children, they got take-out.

Plaintiff reported pain and limited motion in her back and left knee. She had anxiety and feared that someone would kill her. Sometimes she was embarrassed by things crawling on her skin that others could not see. She heard voices in her head. She became angry easily. Stress made her want to hurt someone.

In her social security appeal, Plaintiff told the agency that she sometimes wet her bed because the pain was too bad to get up and go to the bathroom. She took 100 Soma and 100 Vicodin monthly for pain. Using a cane helped her walk by taking pressure off her back. Sometimes her leg gave out, causing her to fall. She had back spasms and could not sit or stand for very long. Her medications included Ambien, Soma, Tylenol #3 with Codeine, codeine cough syrup, Vicodin, and Xanax.

According to Plaintiff, her condition affected her ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, kneel, see, remember, understand, follow instructions, and get along with others. She could walk about ten minutes before needing to rest. She had difficulty remembering to finish her tasks. She wore a shoulder sling when her pain became unbearable.

Third-party disability report. Plaintiff's sister, Annette Harper reported that Plaintiff lived with her daughter and disabled son. Harper spent eight hours a day with Plaintiff, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, washing clothes, cooking, and paying bills. Plaintiff's daily activities included watching television, paying bills, visiting her mother, and taking her children to school. She had difficulty getting in and out of the bath tub and putting blouses over her head. Plaintiff had pain in her shoulders and back. Plaintiff's doctor encouraged her to continue to drive as a means of overcoming her anxiety.

Harper did not trust Plaintiff to administer her own medication, fearing that Plaintiff would overdose herself. Plaintiff's pain medication impaired her memory, and made her irritable and angry. She had repeatedly failed to pay her bills. Harper thought Plaintiff could only go out alone if she was not taking her medication. When Plaintiff was taking her medication, her mind wandered, impairing her ability to follow directions and complete tasks.

Although Plaintiff had previously been able to handle her household and financial duties, she was now anxious and paranoid. Anxiety had caused her hair to fall out. She was easily embarrassed around people and imagined that they were making fun of her. Plaintiff was afraid of setting her house on fire. She frequently spoke about hearing noises, he house being on fire, being tired, and being afraid of dying.

Harper opined that Plaintiff's condition had affected her ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, kneel, see, remember, concentrate, complete tasks, understand, follow instructions, and get along with others. She could walk about ten minutes, then needed to rest for ten to fifteen minutes. Although Plaintiff could not handle stress and changes in routine, she got along well with authority figures. Her former employer, J. C. Penney, had fired her for her inability to follow procedures and get along with others.

Agency interview. The interviewer noted that Plaintiff displayed difficulties with understanding, ...


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