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Valenzuela v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 11, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


SUZANNE H. SEGAL, Magistrate Judge.



Virginia Valenzuela ("Plaintiff") seeks review of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's ("the Commissioner" or the "Agency") decision denying her disability benefits.[1] The parties have consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636, to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.



On February 13, 2008, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (Administrative Record ("AR") 108, 111). Plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 11, 2008 due to limitations from asthma, sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. (AR 134). The Agency denied Plaintiff's DIB and SSI applications on April 1, 2008, and after reconsideration, on July 2, 2008. (AR 46-49, 54-59).

Plaintiff then filed a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 61-68). The hearing took place on August 27, 2009, with ALJ Mason D. Harrell, Jr. presiding. (AR 20-41). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 17, 2009, finding Plaintiff capable of performing a limited range of sedentary work. (AR 7-19). Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council on January 5, 2010. (AR 5). On July 17, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-3).

On August 25, 2010, Plaintiff appealed the Appeals Council's decision by seeking judicial review in this Court. On June 28, 2011, this Court remanded the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings. (AR 541-53). Pursuant to this Court's remand order, the Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to consider all of the relevant medical evidence and give proper weight to the treating physician's opinion, further assess Plaintiff's credibility, and obtain further testimony from a vocational expert. (AR 493).

After this Court's January 6, 2012 order remanding the case for further proceedings, a second hearing was held before a different ALJ. (AR 558). On March 22, 2012, ALJ Duane D. Young issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff's asthma condition met the requirements of Listing 3.03(B) between January 31, 2006 and December 31, 2007, rendering her disabled during that period of time. (AR 497-98). The ALJ also found medical improvement by January 1, 2008, the date Plaintiff's disability ended. (AR 500). Subsequent to January 1, 2008, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work, and therefore could return to her past relevant work. (AR 500, 504). Plaintiff filed the instant action on July 20, 2012.



Plaintiff was born March 27, 1966. (AR 129). Plaintiff completed school through the twelfth grade. (AR 139). Plaintiff has a history of asthma, obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension, and diabetes. The medical record shows that Plaintiff was primarily treated by Tarek Z. Madhi, M.D. at Parkview Community Hospital. However, several other physicians from the Riverside Family Physicians group saw Plaintiff on several occasions during the relevant time periods. (AR 172-268, 269-390, 391-446).

A. Medical History

On December 22, 2005, Plaintiff went to the emergency room complaining of shortness of breath. (AR 350). Intake notes show Plaintiff had an upper respiratory infection that she had been treating with antibiotics for four days. (Id.). Plaintiff complained that her nebulizer was not helping her breathing. (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with an asthma exacerbation and discharged in stable condition. (AR 353). Medical notes from December 30, 2005 indicate that Plaintiff received medical treatment for a bad cough and was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis. (AR 191). Plaintiff's weight was then in excess of 350 pounds. (Id.).

On May 7, 2006, Plaintiff was admitted to the emergency room for shortness of breath, which she had been experiencing for four days. (AR 371-73). Plaintiff was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. (Id.). Again, on May 8, 2006 Plaintiff presented with an asthma attack. (AR 187). Dr. Madhi noted that Plaintiff could walk approximately fifteen minutes before experiencing shortness of breath. (Id.). Plaintiff was using Advair to control her asthma and Albuterol, through a nebulizer, to control symptom flares. (Id.). Plaintiff stated that she used the nebulizer three to four times a day, but that it did not help. (Id.). Plaintiff was then readmitted to the emergency room at Parkview Community Hospital on May 24, 2006 with another asthma attack and again on May 31, 2006 for asthma and bronchitis. (AR 366, 181-82).

On July 18, 2006, Plaintiff was diagnosed with bronchitis at a follow-up appointment. (AR 237). On August 9, 2006, Plaintiff visited Dr. Madhi after participating in a sleep study. (AR 175). Dr. Madhi directed Plaintiff to continue using Advair and Albuterol at home. (Id.). On September 27, 2006, Plaintiff allegedly injured her right knee and had pain in her ankle. (AR 173, 378). A week and a half later, Plaintiff had X-rays and a CT scan. (AR 195-98). The tests revealed that there was no fracture. (Id.). However, there was some soft tissue swelling. (Id.).

On January 5, 2007, Plaintiff met with Dr. Madhi for chronic asthma. (AR 231). Dr. Madhi noted that Plaintiff became short of breath walking two blocks. (Id.). Two days later, on January 7, 2007, Plaintiff presented to the emergency room with severe shortness of breath. (AR 207). Plaintiff was diagnosed with an asthma exacerbation and was put on oxygen by Amiksha Patel, M.D. (Id.). On January 9, 2007, Plaintiff was discharged. (AR 203). Dr. Madhi instructed Plaintiff to take Albuterol four times a day as needed through a hand-held nebulizer, take one puff of Advair twice a day and follow up in a week. (AR 203-04). Further notes show Plaintiff was instructed to lose weight. (AR 203).

On April 24, 2007, Plaintiff went to the emergency room with shortness of breath, which had been increasing in severity for one week. (AR 203). Neither Plaintiff's nebulizer, nor the several treatments she received on intake, improved her condition. (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with an asthma exacerbation. (Id.).

Nonetheless, Dr. Madhi's notes from May 7, 2007 show that Plaintiff was doing well and that her asthma was stable. (AR 225-26). On July 27, 2007, Plaintiff reported to the emergency room with left upper chest pain. However, a heart attack was ruled out after several tests and Plaintiff was discharged three days later, pain free. (AR 295).

Plaintiff went to the emergency room on November 28, 2007. (AR 441). Plaintiff was diagnosed with asthma and bronchitis and discharged the same day. (AR 443). On December 2, 2007, Plaintiff returned to the emergency room with a moderate cough. (AR 315). Dr. Madhi diagnosed Plaintiff with an asthma exacerbation, again discharging her on the same day. (AR 317).

On December 31, 2007, Plaintiff went to the emergency room for a laceration to the head. (AR 326). Plaintiff's respiration was "even and unlabored, " her lungs were clear, and there were no signs of respiratory distress. (Id.). CT scans confirmed that there was no fracture or subluxation of the knee. (AR 297).

Plaintiff returned January 2, 2008 to the emergency department for an examination of her head wound and knee. (AR 331). Plaintiff was discharged in stable condition. (Id.). Plaintiff had "no new complications or complaints." (AR 332). On January 7, 2008, Plaintiff had a routine appointment with Dr. Madhi for her diabetes. (AR 220). Dr. Madhi advised Plaintiff to engage in regular aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least thirty minutes a day, most days of the week. (Id.). Plaintiff met with her primary physician, Dr. Madhi, again on March 19, 2008. (AR 468). Dr. Madhi advised Plaintiff to engage in regular aerobic activity. (Id.).

Plaintiff saw orthopedic surgeon, Stephen P. Suzuki, M.D., on March 27, 2008, regarding her December 2007 knee injury. (AR 447). Dr. Suzuki diagnosed Plaintiff with traumatic chondromalacia patella, or swelling of the underside of the patella. (Id.). Dr. Suzuki prescribed over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, a home exercise program with ice, and physical therapy. (Id.).

On April 21, 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Madhi for diabetes. (AR 470). Plaintiff was described as "well appearing" and "in no distress."(Id.). Dr. Madhi advised Plaintiff to engage in regular brisk aerobic physical activity and requested a follow up in one month for a blood pressure check. (AR 471). Plaintiff saw Dr. Madhi for hypertension on June 9, 2008. (AR 472). Again, Plaintiff was "well appearing" and "in no distress." (Id.). Dr. Madhi emphasized the importance of exercising for a half an hour or more most days of the week and encouraged Plaintiff to adjust her diet. (AR 472-73).

On September 19, 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Madhi for spontaneous vertigo. (AR 474). Dr. Madhi told Plaintiff the illness was not serious, but also that she should avoid working at heights. (Id.). Additional notes from Plaintiff's visit with Dr. Madhi show that ...

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