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Matthew Mcdaniel v. Michael J. Astrue

October 21, 2012


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



Plaintiff Matthew McDaniel, by his attorneys, Frailing, Rockwell, Kelly & Duarte, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his 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 a review of the complete record and applicable law, this Court remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Administrative Record

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff qualified for disability insurance benefits through December 31, 2011. On January 25, 2008, Plaintiff applied for disability benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2007. His claims were initially denied on June 17, 2008, and upon reconsideration, on August 28, 2008. On September 15, 2008, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing on December 2, 2009. On February 5, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Stephen W. Webster denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied review on March 30, 2011. On May 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking District Court review.

B. The Agency Record

Plaintiff's testimony. Plaintiff (born July 26, 1963) lived alone. He was able to perform his own personal care. He drove himself when he felt well, although he reported suffering pain when the car bounced on bumpy roads. He was able to warm prepared foods for himself using the microwave. His adult daughter assisted with housekeeping, laundry, and yard care.

Plaintiff read books, magazines, and the newspaper from thirty to sixty minutes a day. He did not have a television. He used the computer very little. He occasionally went out to the movies. Plaintiff denied a criminal record.

Plaintiff completed high school and attended some college classes. He attended special education classes because he couldn't "say the letters right." AR 25. He had not worked since January 2007. His only support came from the Native American Food Clinics.

Plaintiff suffered back pain and depression. His lower back was braced with metal plates and rods. Disc problems in his neck caused his fingers to become numb. He had begun to experience difficulty with his thumb and tail bone but had not consulted a doctor. Plaintiff was received ongoing medical care at Central Valley Indian Health, which renewed his prescriptions, checked his blood pressure, and examined his back monthly. Plaintiff did not receive psychological care since Central Valley Indian Health had no funds to provide it.

Plaintiff testified that he constantly experienced some degree of pain, which he described as shooting pain from his tailbone up his spine and gouging pain in his neck. He began to experience back pain within 30 to 45 minutes after he sat down. Sometimes he was most comfortable standing and could stand and walk for quite some time. Generally, he was comfortable standing for five to ten minutes. The pain was best relieved by lying down.

Plaintiff used a cane even though no doctor prescribed it. He explained that it helped him avoid turning his ankles when his feet were numb and eased getting back on his feet when he fell.

Plaintiff admitted that he previously "used to drink quite a bit." AR 23. Now, he hardly ever drank.

In response to his attorney's questions, Plaintiff testified that when he felt depressed he cried. His depression did not affect his ability to work because his back pain prevented him from working. Bending was most difficult. Plaintiff testified, "I can't--I just can't do the work like I used to do . . . . No matter how hard I'd want to, I'm just going to hurt myself doing it, so then you just, a person don't do it. Because you know the next day you're going to, or that evening, you're going to be in severe pain." AR 24.

Daily Activities Questionnaire. Plaintiff reported that he always experienced some pain, although morphine and Norco could mask it. As a result, he spent the majority of his time in bed. Movement of his head could result in his losing his vision. Walking could cause disc movement that resulted in a loss of feeling in his legs and feet, and a resulting fall. He avoided lifting things and did not climb stairs.

Plaintiff did his own grocery shopping every two weeks, although lifting the bags caused him pain. He was able to drive an automatic car but suffered if he hit a bump. Because performing housework increased his pain, he had some one else do it for him.

Other reports. In his adult disability report, Plaintiff stated that he stopped working on December 31, 2006, when he could no longer stand the pain. In another report, Plaintiff noted that his pain prevented him from concentrating. Numbness in his feet and ankles resulted in his frequently turning his ankles. He had become depressed.

In a telephone conversation with agency personnel, Plaintiff acknowledged that he had previously consumed excessive alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate his pain. Plaintiff reported that he no longer drank alcohol.

Medical records. The administrative record includes some medical records dating back to 1991 as well as records concerning medical treatment for conditions not relevant to Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. This summary addresses only relevant treatment.

Plaintiff was treated for depression in 1999. On September 23, 2001, Plaintiff was treated in the emergency room of Madera Community Hospital for severe ...

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