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Matilde Michel Sanchez v. Michael J. Astrue

November 5, 2012

MATILDE MICHEL SANCHEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case)

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence (JS at 3); and

2. Whether the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject Plaintiff's subjective symptoms (JS at 13).

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed and the matter remanded.

I

THE ALJ FAILED TO PROVIDE CLEAR AND CONVINCING REASONS

TO REJECT PLAINTIFF'S SUBJECTIVE COMPLAINTS

A. Introduction.

This is a case in which Plaintiff received a very significant amount of treatment for joint pain, ultimately resulting in a diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder. There are hundreds of pages of treatment notes, yet there is not an opinion from a treating physician as to Plaintiff's exertional capacity. The Court cannot fault the agency or the ALJ for failure to provide this information. The agency requested Plaintiff's treating sources to provide such statements (AR 191, 345), and the ALJ issued a subpoena to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center requiring it to produce Plaintiff's medical records (AR 141, 392-431). Plaintiff is not a native English speaker, and was assisted by an interpreter at the hearing before the ALJ. (AR 35-48.) Indeed, Plaintiff's preferred language is Spanish and she does speak or understand English. (AR 156.) The highest grade of school that Plaintiff completed was fifth grade in Mexico. (AR 162.) Consequently, while, as the Court has indicated, the agency and the ALJ took appropriate steps to develop the record, nevertheless, it may also be observed that Plaintiff may not have had the sophistication herself to obtain diagnostic and treatment records, and the fact that she did not have the assistance of counsel underscores the point.

What results from the above combination of factors is a medical record which is replete with extensive treatment notes, but a lack of diagnostic opinions from treating sources. Thus, the ALJ made a determination of Plaintiff's RFC based primarily upon the analysis of a DDS analyst who does not appear to be a physician, and a one-time examination by a consultative internist. (See AR 29, 386-391, 379-384.) Plaintiff's first issue focuses upon the sparse basis upon which the ALJ determined Plaintiff's RFC. The Court is sympathetic to this argument, but, for reasons to be stated, sees no need to make an ultimate determination. From a strictly legal point of view, the ALJ may well have been justified in relying upon a single examination of a consultative examiner and a report of a DDS analyst in determining Plaintiff's RFC. But, since the Court will be remanding this matter for further hearing based upon Plaintiff's second issue, and, it is likely that Plaintiff will be represented at the remand proceedings, there will be a better chance that the record may be further developed. Therefore, the Court will turn to the second issue, which is the credibility determination.

II

THE ALJ'S CREDIBILITY DETERMINATION IS DEFICIENT, AND PLAINTIFF'S CREDIBILITY WILL BE REEVALUATED ON REMAND The following constitutes the entire credibility discussion and ...


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