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Gonzales v. Astrue

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 22, 2013

JULIAN Gonzales, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

Page 1015

For Julian Gonzalez, Plaintiff: Tom F. Weathered, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Tom Weathered, San Francisco, CA.

For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Elizabeth Barry, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of the Regional Counsel, Region IX, San Francisco, CA.


Page 1016

RONALD M. WHYTE, United States District Judge.


[Re Docket Nos. 30, 31]

Plaintiff Julian Gonzales (" Gonzales" ) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (" Commissioner" ) denying his claims for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having considered the papers submitted by the parties and the entire administrative record, and for the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment and DENIES Gonzales's motion for summary judgment.


A. Procedural Background

The Social Security Administration (SSA or " Agency" ) awarded Gonzales disability benefits beginning on September 1, 2002 based on his childhood disabilities. On his eighteenth birthday, the SSA re-assessed Gonzales's eligibility for disability benefits under the adult standard. Administrative Transcript (" Tr." ) 291. The evaluating state agency determined that Gonzales was no longer disabled as of June 30, 2007 because he did not meet the criteria for compensable adult disability. Id. Gonzales sought review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who affirmed the Agency's decision in October 2008 on the basis that Gonzales was not disabled under the adult criteria. Id. Gonzales appealed, and the Appeals Council affirmed. Id. Gonzales then sought review in this court. Id. In March 2009, this court found that a medical opinion apparently missing from the record available before the ALJ prejudiced Gonzales and remanded for re-hearing, ordering the ALJ to consider only information in the record and allowing Gonzales to add additional relevant documentation before the next hearing. Case No. 09-01776, Dkt. No. 19 (" Remand Order" ). In a decision dated February 16, 2011, the ALJ largely re-affirmed his previous decision, again denying Gonzales benefits. Id. at 302 (" ALJ's Remand Decision" ). On November 9, 2011, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's Remand Decision. Id. at 276. Gonzales seeks review in this court.

B. Gonzales's Age, Educational, and Vocational History

Gonzales was born on March 5, 1988, and made it to his senior year of high school, but did not graduate because he was many credits short. Tr. 244-45. While in school, Gonzales was in special education classes and maintained a GPA in the first percentile of his class. See Tr. 86-93. Gonzales worked as a stockman at his brother's store for about four months, but the ALJ determined that he had no past relevant work experience because his earnings were too low to be considered substantial gainful activity. Tr. 98, 229, 301.

C. Gonzales's Medical History

Gonzales has claimed disability since September 1, 2002 and onward, including from his reassessment date on his eighteenth birthday, March 5, 2006. Tr. 79. His claimed disabilities are congenital anomalies of the heart and that he suffers from dizziness and fatigue due to migraines or headaches. Id. at 70. The court describes those relevant to the motions before it.

1. Congenital heart defects

Gonzales was born with a congenital heart defect called " tetralogy of Fallot"

Page 1017

and has undergone three surgeries to alleviate the condition at age three months, age three, and age sixteen. Tr. 548, 233, 165. In his pre-hearing brief, dated December 1, 2010, Gonzales described these procedures as " somewhat improvised" and therefore " palliative" rather than " fully curative," id. at 369, but does not cite to the record to support this conclusion. Gonzales further states that his extertional activities are severely limited due to this abnormality. Id. at 370, 759.

Gonzales has seen several physicians regarding his heart condition. Most relevant to the appeal, in April 2007, one month after Gonzales's 18th birthday, Dr. Clark Gable examined Gonzales and determined that Gonzales takes no medication for any cardiac condition and plays basketball " a fair amount of the time," ultimately finding the examination to be " normal." See id. at 165-67. By contrast, Dr. Stafford Grady, a cardiologist that has seen Gonzales since birth, submitted a report in November 2010 that found Gonzales to be " severely limited" by the congenital heart disease, determining him to be " exercise intolerant." Id. at 759. Dr. Grady determined that Gonzales's symptoms were " chronic" and that surgery had not improved his condition. Id. In the November 2010 report, Dr. Grady's findings indicated Gonzales would not be able to work. See id. at 760-69.

2. Emotional Problems

Gonzales additionally argues that general emotional issues, described mostly as depression, factor into his disability determination. Several physicians made observations on Gonzales's emotional disposition. For example, Ahmed El-Sokkary, Psy.D., performed a series of tests on Gonzales and diagnosed him with " depressive disorder, [Not Otherwise Specified (" NOS" )]." Tr. 164. Dr. El-Sokkary nonetheless determined that " [Gonzales] was able to maintain a sufficient level of concentration, persistence and pace to do basic work in an environment that health condition would allow." Id. In addition, Dr. Joe Azevedo conducted a mental status examination and determined Gonzales's mood to be " euthymic" and noted that he had " no signs of any formal thought disturbance." Id. at 376. Dr. Azevedo further described Gonzales's insight, judgment, expressive and receptive language skills as " fair," but noted that his concentration was " mildly impaired." Id.

3. Migraine Headaches

Gonzales also complains of migraine headaches. In November 2007, the latest evaluation of record assessing Gonzales's migraine headaches, Dr. David Chen determined that Gonzales suffered from " mixed-type headaches" that are likely to be variants of a migraine, but also described these episodes as both " mild" and " relatively infrequent." Tr. 229. Dr. Chen determined that " Ibuprofen is reasonable as an abortive treatment, and [Gonzales] and his mother seem to be satisfied with his response to Ibuprofen." Id. In addition, Dr. Chen found that both Gonzales and his mother " do not think he needs prophylactic treatment or prescription or abortive medicine at this time." Id. Finally, Dr. Chen " reassured them that [he ...

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