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Mary Jean Coffman v. Michael J. Astrue

July 19, 2012


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



Plaintiff Mary Jean Coffman ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her applications for disability and supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Titles II and 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 Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits in November 2007. See AR 126-136. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 66-70, 74-79. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing was held before ALJ Patricia L. Flierl on August 26, 2009. AR 80-81, 86-101. ALJ Flierl issued a decision denying benefits on January 14, 2010. AR 10-18. On February 24, 2011, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 2-4.

Hearing Testimony

The hearing before ALJ Flierl on August 26, 2009, was held in Fresno, California. Plaintiff was present and testified. She was represented by attorney Melissa Proudian. Vocational Expert ("VE") Tom Dashlett also testified. AR 19-51.

Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff is thirty-two years old. She lives with her husband and two of her three children at a home in Clovis, California. At five feet tall, Plaintiff weighs 112 pounds and is right handed. AR 21-23. She is unable to work because of a heart problem (sinus tachycardia), chronic migraines, and depression. AR 29, 43.

Plaintiff completed the eleventh grade. She never received a GED or diploma, however, she did complete a certified nursing assistant class in 2002. AR 23-24. She last worked in April of 2004 as a certified nursing assistant at Kaweah Hospital. AR 24.

Prior to working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, Plaintiff worked full time at a pizzeria for nine months. During six of the nine months, she held a management position. AR 26-27. In this role, she took orders, delivered drinks and pizzas to customers, ordered supplies, and conducted interviews. AR 26-27. As a manager, Plaintiff lifted no more than approximately ten pounds. AR 26. Before working at the pizzeria, Plaintiff was employed for less than three months at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on a full time basis. AR 27. She also worked at Clingan's Junction Restaurant between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. AR 28.

Plaintiff is unable to work currently because her heart condition causes her to become dizzy and she passes out. AR 28. When she experiences heart problems, Plaintiff's heart begins to race, she sometimes gets dizzy, and she breaks out in sweats. AR 29. These symptoms can occur several times a day when she is just sitting or even sleeping, usually five to six days a week. AR 29, 45. The last time Plaintiff passed out from this condition was in 2008. AR 44. She does not grocery shop by herself because she always has her four-year-old autistic son with her. AR 34. Plaintiff is fearful she will have an episode and pass out, leaving her son alone without the ability to contact anyone. AR 34.

Plaintiff takes Atenolol and Midodrine for her heart condition. The medication makes her very sleepy, and she usually lays down for a nap after taking the pills. AR 30. Even after laying down for a couple hours, she still feels exhausted, dizzy, and light-headed. AR 31.

Plaintiff began seeing a cardiologist, Dr. Liu, in 2007. AR 32. She had an ablation performed in September of that year, where doctors "found an extra pathway" and cauterized it. AR 32. Although she received treatment, Plaintiff alleges it was not effective. AR 32. When asked if other treatment was available, Plaintiff responded that doctors could remove her sinus nodes, but it is not guaranteed to fix the problem, and could result in a pacemaker being necessary. AR 33. She visits her cardiologist three times a year, however as of the date of the hearing, it had been almost one year since her last visit. AR 43.

In addition to her heart problem, Plaintiff suffers from migraine headaches. AR 35. When experiencing a migraine, Plaintiff is awake and feels grouchy, nauseated, is bothered by light and noise, and gets blurry spots in her vision. AR 39. The migraines started at the age of sixteen and they occur two times per week and last from one to three days. AR 35, 38. Plaintiff takes Topamax and Darvocet to treat them. AR 35-36. She also goes to her neurologist about once every two months and receives injections of Cortisone and Lidocaine. Although the injections do not get rid of the headache, they alleviate some sore spots on her head. AR 36-37. She also gets injections of Demerol or Dilaudid, which instantly relieves the pain but makes her sleep "[a] good six hours." AR 37. When experiencing migraines, Plaintiff still must care for her children if her husband is unavailable, but sometimes her brother or mother help her. AR 38-39.

Plaintiff also suffers from depression. She currently takes Celexa to treat the condition, which is under control. AR 40. However, if she misses even one dose, her mood is adversely affected. AR 40.

When Plaintiff feels ill, she can only concentrate for less than two hours. AR 41. On most days however, she is able to cook, clean the house, and grocery shop with her husband on his days off. AR 41-42. She has a California driver's license and operates a vehicle a "[c]ouple times a week." AR 23. She does not drive often because of her heart condition. In the past, she hit a fire hydrant when she was feeling light headed and disoriented. AR 33. Although her doctor has not limited her driving, she does not feel ...

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