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Svetlana Gyulnazaryan v. Michael Astrue

October 18, 2012


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



Plaintiff Svetlana Gyulnazaryan ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI 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 Gary S. Austin.*fn1


Plaintiff filed an application for benefits in April 2008, alleging disability as of April 1, 2004. AR 84-87. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration; she then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 73-83. ALJ William Wallis held a hearing and subsequently issued an order denying benefits on March 25, 2010, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 17-27. On August 5, 2011, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 5-8.

Hearing Testimony

ALJ Wallis held a hearing on March 8, 2010, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified; she was assisted by non-attorney representative Anthony Gonzales. Vocational Expert ("VE") Thomas Dachelet also testified. AR 364-406.

Plaintiff was born May 27, 1960, in Armenia. AR 372. She attended a year of college in the United States. AR 372. She currently receives general relief and food stamp benefits. Plaintiff lives with her husband who is disabled. AR 394-395.

Plaintiff last worked as an elderly caregiver in 2004. AR 373. She worked seven days a week, for four hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. AR 373. She assisted the individuals with dressing, bathing and other personal hygiene, performed bed and wheelchair transfers, did laundry and prepared meals. AR 373-374. Eventually another individual was hired because she could no longer assist a client with the transfer from bed to wheelchair. AR 374. For a three year period between 1997 and 2000, Plaintiff worked for a medical supply company. She prepared receipts, organized the warehouse, stocked shelves, and unloaded trucks. AR 375. That position required that she be on her feet for eight hours, standing and walking. AR 376.

On April 1, 2004, Plaintiff became disabled. AR 376. She has not worked since that date. AR 377. Plaintiff had "extremely high blood pressure and diabetic back pain," her feet hurt and she could not walk, and her back ached. Her vision was affected, and she was dizzy and lightheaded. AR 376. She had difficulty breathing and felt pressure on her chest. She could not work because she had to sit down to rest, but then had difficulty sitting so she would need to lie down. AR 377. Plaintiff acknowledged she has complained of high blood pressure, heart problems, a tumor, thyroid problems, lower back pain, dizziness, colon problems, headaches, leg pain, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and foot pain. AR 378.

With specific regard to back pain, the pain is in her center, lower back, going right to left. AR 379. She explained that during a surgery performed, "all [her] intestines . . . were st[u]ck together," and although the surgeon "separate[d her] intestines," following the surgery she has had pain in her back "and in the intestines." AR 379. Because of her back pain, Plaintiff cannot bend or squat. AR 384. The medication she takes for her back helps a little but does not relieve the pain completely. AR 383-384. If she does not take the medication for her back, the pain she feels is a ten on a scale of one-to-ten. AR 384. With medication, Plaintiff estimated that the pain is a six on a scale of one-to-ten. AR 384.

Plaintiff feels pain in her ankles (right more than left), has arthritis in her knees (left more than right), and feels pain and arthritis in both hips. AR 380. The pain cannot be relieved, even when she is lying down. AR 381.

Blood pressure readings average 200 over 130 or 140, but have exceeded 150. It continues to rise. AR 398. She takes her blood pressure reading every morning; on the morning of the hearing her blood pressure was 200 over 130. AR 399. The doctors are always worried about her blood pressure, and therefore, they ignore her other pains. AR 381-383. Further, the medications she has been prescribed make her dizzy, and cause blurred vision and stomach pains. AR 383.

Plaintiff weighs 317 pounds and is about five feet, four inches*fn3 tall. Within the last year, she has gained about twenty-five pounds and continues to gain weight. AR 398.

Plaintiff suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and depression as well. It affects her ability to remember things in the present. AR 390. Plaintiff takes medication to treat her post traumatic stress disorder and depression, but does not attend counseling or receive other treatment. AR 392. With regard to memory, if Plaintiff were asked to go to the grocery store for five items and she did not write the items down on a list, she would not remember any of the five items when she got to the store. AR 390-391. She has difficulty concentrating and understanding others. AR 393. Noises and voices irritate her, so Plaintiff does not like television. However, sometimes she will watch five minutes of it with her husband. AR 391. She prefers to be alone. AR 391. She does not do the grocery shopping, but does occasionally go with her daughter to do so. On those occasions, she uses the cart to assist her when walking. AR 391-392.

Plaintiff does not cook, but does use the microwave to heat food. She used to cook, but because she is forgetful, she almost burned the house down by leaving food on the stove. AR 396. She does not do any vacuuming, sweeping or cleaning, as her daughter does those things once a week. She does occasionally do laundry. AR 397.

When she was asked how much weight she could lift and carry during an eight-hour workday, Plaintiff indicated she could lift about a pound; an eight-pound gallon of milk is too heavy, for example, and she cannot lift it. AR 385-386. When she was asked how long she could stand at one time, Plaintiff initially indicated she could not stand, then estimated she could stand in the same place for two to three minutes with something to hold on to. AR 386. She could do this again after resting. AR 397. She can walk with a cane for about five to ten minutes maximum. AR 386. She could not walk again for ten minutes within an eight-hour period however because her feet hurt. AR 388. She can sit for about a half-hour at one time, before she would need to stand or "do something else." AR 388. She needs to lie down for fifteen minutes at a time, about six times during an eight-hour period. AR 388. Plaintiff cannot crawl, kneel, stoop, bend or squat, nor can she use stairs. AR 388-389. Plaintiff can use her hands, but "[n]ot much." AR 389-390. She is right-handed, and her left shoulder hurts all the time in the "bone." AR 390.

When asked about a regular day, Plaintiff indicated she cannot sleep through the night. She takes medication to help her sleep. AR 395. She has difficulty combing her hair and her daughter helps her because her left arm does not "go[] up much." It gets tired and she cannot finish her hair. AR 395. She gets up about 9 a.m. and takes her medication and eats breakfast. Her daughter comes by to help her dress. She will make any calls for appointments or medications. AR 396. She may read a newspaper ad, or watch television with her husband, but for the most part she lies down. AR 396-397. Plaintiff does not have any hobbies or activities; she used to cook and bake, shop and garden, but she can no longer do those things. AR 397.

VE Dachelet described Plaintiff's past work as a home health aide, medium and semi-skilled, with an SVP*fn4 of 3; and medical supply representative, medium with an SVP of five. AR 401. Record keeping skills could transfer to other work. AR 402.

In a hypothetical question posed by the ALJ, the VE was asked to assume a hypothetical person of the same age, education, language and work experience, who had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift and carry, push or pull, twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, with the ability to sit for six hours in an eight-hour day, stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday, who could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but could never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. The hypothetical person would be further limited to occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity, the need to avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards, and occasional contact only with the general public. AR 402-403. VE Dachelet indicated that such an individual could not perform Plaintiff's past work. AR 403. However, other sedentary, unskilled work could be performed by such an individual. For example, ampoule sealer, census code 964, DOT*fn5 559.687-014, with 3,050 positions in California from a total labor force of 84,540. Assuming a reduction for limited public contact, at least 40,000 jobs would remain at the sedentary and unskilled level. AR 403-404. The VE also identified a loader of semi-conductor dyes, census code 896, DOT 726.687-030, with 2,719 positions in California; and a stuffer, census code 880, DOT 731.685-014, with 597 persons employed in California. AR 404. National figures are obtained by multiplying the aforementioned numbers by about nine. AR 404.

In a second hypothetical, the VE was asked to consider the same individual, with the following RFC: the ability to lift and carry one pound occasionally or frequently, could stand for thirty-two to fifty-four minutes in an eight-hour day (for two to three minutes at a time), walk for ten minutes in an eight-hour day, lie down up to an hour and a half total in an eight-hour workday (for fifteen minutes at one time), who could occasionally perform overhead lifting with the non-dominant upper left extremity, with the inability to stoop, bend, squat, kneel, or crawl, or to concentrate for two-hour periods throughout an eight-hour workday. AR 404-405. VE Dachelet testified that such an individual would be precluded from performing Plaintiff's past work, and could not perform any other work in the national economy. AR 405.

Medical Record

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 153-363. The medical evidence will be referenced below as ...

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