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Randy D. Young v. Commissioner of Social Security

August 6, 2012

RANDY D. YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18). For the reasons discussed below, the court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

Plaintiff, born on May 7, 1982, applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act on May 7, 2007, alleging an onset of disability on February 1, 2006 primarily due to mental impairments. Certified Administrative Record ("CAR") 17, 69-70, 152-58, 159-66. Specifically, plaintiff claims disability due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), bipolar disorder, anxiety, mood swings, depression, borderline intellectual functioning, as well as abdominal pain. CAR 45, 51, 199-208.

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. CAR 76-80, 88-92. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on September 22, 2009 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Stanley R. Hogg. CAR 31-68. In a January 20, 2010 decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled*fn2 based on the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2008.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), personality disorder and borderline intellectual functioning (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels that involves simple routine tasks that have no frequent dealings with the public and do not require good reading and writing skills.

6. The claimant has no past relevant work background (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).

7. The claimant was born on May 7, 1982 and was 23 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).

8. The claimant has a 10th grade limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).

9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).

10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from February 1, 2006 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

CAR 17-26. After the Appeals Council declined review on March 24, 2011, this appeal followed. CAR 1-6.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to determine whether it is:

(1) based on proper legal standards; and (2) supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). "Substantial evidence" is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). It is "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971). The record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, must be considered and weighed. See Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court may not affirm the Commissioner's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). However, if substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a particular finding, the finding of the Commissioner is conclusive. See Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987). Therefore, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed, see Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, see Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff argues that: A. The ALJ improperly evaluated plaintiff's physical impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation process; B. The ALJ improperly assessed plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC"); C. The ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating psychiatric nurse practitioner; D. The ALJ failed to properly analyze the effects of plaintiff's obesity on his mental impairments and pain; E. The ALJ improperly discredited the testimony of plaintiff and plaintiff's mother, as well as third party written statements; and F. The ALJ erred by failing to obtain vocational expert ("VE") testimony regarding plaintiff's non-exertional limitations at step five of the sequential evaluation process.*fn3

A. PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENTS

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly found that plaintiff's pancreatitis and/or abdominal pain was not a severe impairment at step two because it did not exist for a period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ should have ordered a consultative evaluation regarding plaintiff's physical RFC.

The record shows that plaintiff first reported abdominal pain in October 2000. CAR 533-35. At that time, plaintiff was diagnosed with abdominal pain of unclear etiology and possible ulcer disease, but plaintiff refused nasogastric intubation and was discharged home. CAR 534. Subsequently, on January 6, 2008, plaintiff again reported severe abdominal pain after eating at fast food restaurants the previous day (with a previous episode two weeks prior). CAR 558-60. An ultrasound indicated that plaintiff had multiple stones in his gallbladder and gallbladder removal was recommended, but plaintiff indicated that he did not want the procedure done. CAR 559. The medical records indicate that plaintiff subsequently was admitted to have the surgery, but became impatient and left when the surgery was delayed by a couple of hours. CAR 569. Several months later, on August 2, 2008, plaintiff returned to the emergency room with abdominal pain, and a CT scan revealed that he had gallstones with no evidence of bile duct dilatation or inflammation, bowel obstruction, or free air. CAR 310-12, 569-71. Plaintiff's gallbladder was then removed on August 22, 2008. CAR 298-300.

Thereafter, plaintiff continued to complain of abdominal pain, and between February and May of 2009 was hospitalized multiple times for abdominal pain and suspected pancreatitis at Mercy Medical Center. However, on May 8, 2009, Drs. Lim and Leung, doctors at U.C. Davis Medical Center, determined that his symptoms were likely the result of bile duct stones as opposed to chronic pancreatitis. CAR 755-57. This diagnosis was confirmed when several bile duct stones were surgically removed on May 22, 2009, and Drs. Lim and Leung opined that plaintiff's pancreatitis was likely due to these removed bile duct stones. CAR 759-62. The record contains no further medical records documenting treatment for abdominal pain or pancreatitis.

In light of the above, there is substantial evidence that plaintiff suffered from severe abdominal pain and/or pancreatitis between August 2008 and May 2009. Although there are medical records documenting abdominal pain as early as October 2000 and January 2008, as noted above, plaintiff refused treatment at those times and did not return with further complaints until August 2008. At the hearing, plaintiff himself suggested that his stomach problems began primarily after his gallbladder removal in August 2008 and that he stopped doing in-home support service work for his mother since he got hospitalized in 2009. CAR 46, 50-51. Additionally, even though plaintiff testified at the September 22, 2009 hearing that he continued to experience frequent abdominal pain that wakes him up at night up to four times per week and can last 1.5-2 hours at a time, there are no further medical records documenting treatment for abdominal pain after removal of plaintiff's bile duct stones in May 2009. CAR 47-48. Even if plaintiff did not have insurance and lacked access to medical care*fn4 as he suggests, plaintiff also testified that he does not take any ...

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