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Angelique L. Johnson v. Michael J. Astrue

November 6, 2012

ANGELIQUE L. JOHNSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT ) (Docs. 1, 17)

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XIV of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(g). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born in 1955, completed the tenth grade, and has no past relevant work. (Administrative Record ("AR") 22, 28, 56, 123.) In December 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on August 1, 1995, due to Hepatitis C, liver disease, and anxiety attacks. (AR 108-14, 119.)

A. Relevant Medical History

On February 20, 2007, Plaintiff was examined by David C. Richwerger, Ed.D. (AR 192-97.) Plaintiff reported to Dr. Richwerger that she has been experiencing anxiety, depression, and difficulty coping since the death of a loved one in 1990. (AR 192.) Plaintiff stated that when she was a child, her parents placed her in a psychiatric hospital "because '[s]he was a spoiled brat.'" (AR 192.) She had also undergone outpatient counseling, and her last visit was about three years prior to the examination. (AR 193.) She had been placed on Xanax for depression and anxiety, but she became addicted to the medication. (AR 193.) Symptomatically, Plaintiff reported experiencing difficulty concentrating and memory issues over "the last few years." (AR 193.) While Plaintiff denied auditory or visual hallucinations, she reported that she sometimes felt as though people are watching her. (AR 193.) She reported troubling thoughts and indicated she felt anxious and depressed. (AR 193.)

Plaintiff stated that she used to drink alcohol, but reported she had been sober for five months. (AR 193.) She previously used "every kind" of street drug, but her last drug use was 20 years ago. (AR 193.) Medically, Plaintiff told Dr. Richwerger that she had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, she had spinal meningitis when she was two, and she has been in motor vehicle accidents resulting in elbow and knee surgeries. (AR 193.) She reported to Dr. Richwerger that she was currently taking methadone for her pain, and Klonopin for anxiety. (AR 194.)

Plaintiff reported living in a house with family and friends, but indicated that she does not sleep very well and her appetite is reduced. (AR 194.) Plaintiff performs household chores such as cooking and attends to her personal grooming including dressing and bathing. (AR 194.) She reported going to the store, but indicated that she usually did not go anywhere or do anything. (AR 194.) Plaintiff "gets along okay with family and relatives but would 'rather not.'" (AR 194.) She also reported getting along fine with friends. (AR 194.)

Based on his examination, Dr. Richwerger found that Plaintiff was fully oriented to time, place, person, and purpose for the evaluation; her verbal response time was within normal limits, not delayed, and not diminished; no articulation problems were noted; and her thought processes were "clear and rational but somewhat concrete." (AR 194.) Dr. Richwerger noted that Plaintiff was "talkative." (AR 194.) Dr. Richwerger found that Plaintiff's understanding of instructions was within normal limits for simple tasks, and she had occasional difficulty with complex tasks. (AR 195.) He found Plaintiff to be mildly anxious at the examination's outset, but "then she calmed to some degree." (AR 195.) Plaintiff's memory responses were in the low to average range, her concentration and attention was found to be in the average to low range, but she had occasional difficulty with comprehension tasks. (AR 195.) Dr. Richwerger listed a diagnostic impression of alcohol dependence in remission, anxiety disorder by history given, and adjustment disorder with depressed mood, secondary to health related concerns and loss. (AR 196.)

Dr. Richwerger also provided a functional assessment indicating that Plaintiff has (1) slight impairment in her ability to perform detailed and complex tasks; (2) no impairment in her ability to perform simple and repetitive tasks; (3) slight impairment in her ability to perform work activities on a consistent basis; (4) no impairment in the ability to perform work activities without special supervision; (5) moderate impairment in the ability to complete a normal workday or workweek without interruption from a psychiatric condition; (6) slight impairment in the ability to understand and accept instruction from supervisors; (7) slight impairment in the ability to interact with co-workers and the public; (8) no impairment in the ability to maintain regular attendance in the workplace; (9) slight impairment in the ability to deal with the ususal stresses encountered in competitive work; and (10) is capable of managing her own funds. (AR 197.)

On March 23, 2007, non-examining state agency consultative examiner G.K. Ikawa reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment and a Psychiatric Review Technique form. (AR 198-211.) Dr. Ikawa found Plaintiff moderately limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions and moderately limited in her ability to interact appropriately with the general public. (AR 198-99.) In all other areas of functioning, Dr. Ikawa determined that Plaintiff was "not significantly limited." (AR 198-200.) Dr. Ikawa concluded that Plaintiff was able to sustain simple, repetitive tasks, and was able to relate to the general public so long as the contact was limited. (AR 200.) Dr. Ikawa's findings were affirmed by Dr. E. A. Murillo, who also found that Plaintiff was able to perform simple, repetitive tasks with limited public contact. (AR 242.)

B. Administrative Proceedings

The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 65, 69-73, 81-82.) On January 20, 2009, ALJ Daniel G. Heely held a hearing where ...


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