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Regina Hankins v. Michael J. Astrue

September 20, 2012

REGINA HANKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Regina Hankins ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe. Following a review of the complete record and applicable law, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits to Plaintiff.

FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On June 29, 2007, Plaintiff filed her first application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II, of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning August 15, 2006.

AR 101.*fn1 Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 70, 75. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 43. ALJ Benjamin Parks held a hearing on January 26, 2010, and issued an order denying benefits on April 2, 2010. AR 13-21. This appeal followed.

Relevant Medical Record

Plaintiff alleges that bipolar disorder, including depression and anxiety, prevented her from working beginning on August 15, 2006. AR 120, 160, 169. The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 178-322. The medical evidence will be referenced below as necessary to this Court's decision.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Parks held a hearing on January 26, 2010, in San Francisco, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified. She was represented by attorney Alex Budoff. AR 43. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. AR 43. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ held open the administrative record for an additional forty-five days in order for Plaintiff to submit additional evidence after the hearing. AR 45.

Plaintiff was forty-eight years old at the time of the hearing. AR 46. Plaintiff completed her high school education and attended vocational school where she received an associates of science degree. AR 46. With regard to her previous employment, Plaintiff stated that her most recent employment was approximately four years ago, where she worked at a hospice facility inputting medical records. AR 47. Prior to working in medical records, Plaintiff was a title assistant. Plaintiff testified she was let go from her title assistant position for an unknown reason after returning from a vacation. AR 50.

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified she suffers primarily from mental health challenges. AR 47. Plaintiff experiences bipolar disorder, manic depression, and panic attacks. AR 48, 53. She stated that she first noted her symptoms five years prior to the hearing (i.e. in 2005). AR 48.

According to Plaintiff, the elevated moods of her bipolar disorder lasted a couple days, during which she was irrational, spent money freely, and did a week's worth of housework in hours. AR 48. However, Plaintiff testified that even when her mood was elevated she did not leave the house unless she absolutely had to. AR 56. Plaintiff testified that her manic episodes were becoming less and less frequent. AR 56-57. However, Plaintiff stated that her depressive periods could last for weeks, during which she felt sluggish, stayed in the house, did not get dressed, and did not eat. AR 48. According to her testimony, Plaintiff did not get out of bed two or three times a week. While in her room, Plaintiff watched TV and slept. AR 55. Plaintiff also testified to panic attacks, but stated that Xanax worked well. AR 53-54. According to Plaintiff, she was taking Lexapro, Xanax, Klonopin, and an anti-seizure medication that she could not remember. AR 49. Plaintiff testified that the anti-seizure medication, which she had recently started, was working well. AR 49. Plaintiff also testified that she did not use alcohol, as it had the potential to interfere with her medications. AR 50, 52. She also stated that she was seeing her doctor regularly, had "some" counseling, and at her last visit, her doctor suggested that she attend group counseling. AR 50.

When asked about her typical day, Plaintiff stated that during the day, if she has a little bit of energy, she does light household chores. AR 52. She stated that she rarely left her house, leaving only when she absolutely has to. AR 52-53. She cooked only sporadically and usually ordered takeout. AR 53. According to Plaintiff, she had problems remembering things and needed to make lists of simple tasks, like making a phone call or taking out the trash. AR 57. In Plaintiff's opinion, her condition is worsening. Her periods of feeling good are decreasing, and her mind is less clear. AR 57.

During the hearing, the ALJ also inquired how Plaintiff got along with the general public, including supervisors and co-workers. Plaintiff testified that she got along very well with her co-workers and that her prior positions did not involve the general public, she however, did not get along with her previous supervisor. AR 58.

Thereafter, the ALJ elicited the testimony of a vocational expert, Baer. AR 61. The VE stated that Plaintiff's past work was classified as a medical records clerk, and a general clerk, both light, semi-skilled. AR 61. The VE was asked to consider two hypothetical questions posed by the ALJ. AR 61. First, VE Baer was asked to consider jobs a hypothetical person could complete assuming a hypothetical worker of Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience with no exertional limits; but such a person had mild activities of daily living, was moderately impaired in social functioning, had some difficulty with supervisors but was not limited on that basis in terms of functioning, had moderate concentration, persistence and pace, would have difficulty with detail and complex instructions 40 to 50 percent of the day, could do simple, repetitive one and two-step tasks to maintain a normal production schedule. The person would also require limited public contact but would not experience episodes of decompensation in a work environment. AR 61. VE Baer indicated such an individual could perform work as a housekeeper, cleaner, packing line worker, and sorter of agricultural produce. AR 62. VE Baer also indicated such an individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 62.

In a second hypothetical, VE Baer was asked to consider the same non-exertional limits but the individual would also have a 40 to 50 percent limitation in maintaining simple, repetitive tasks in a normal production schedule. VE Baer indicated such an individual could not perform any work as it exists in the national economy. AR 63.

Plaintiff's counsel asked the VE to consider the second hypothetical, but the hypothetical individual would be "off task" for 10 to 20 percent of the time. The VE testified that individual could not perform any work as it exists in the national economy. AR 63. The VE also testified that if Plaintiff was "off task" 10 ...


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