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Vasquez v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 31, 2014

MARIA G. VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT INTRODUCTION

GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Maria Vasquez ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her applications for disability insurance pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act.[1] The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[2]

BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS[3]

Plaintiff was born in 1963, has a third grade education, and suffers from obesity. She is unable to communicate in English. She previously worked as a bicycle assembler, but she has been unable to work for several years due to problems with her lungs. AR. 44, 71, 79, 344, 368. She also has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. AR 370, 456-457.

Plaintiff first applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on March 11, 2009. AR 158-164. After her applications were denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 30, 78-79. ALJ Robert Evans held a hearing on May 10, 2010. AR 67-77. On June 4, 2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR 42-47. The Appeals Council denied review (AR 1-3), and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner which is the subject of the instant appeal.

MEDICAL RECORD

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 230-468. At issue here are the opinions of six doctors: 1) Dr. Moon Chan Chang, M.D., a treating physician, 2) Dr. Nkiruka Akabike, M.D., a treating physician, 3) Dr. John Sedgh, M.D., a consultative examining physician, 4) Dr. Camille B. Williams, M.D., a non-examining state agency physician, 5) Dr. K Beig., M.D., a non-examining state agency physician, and 6) Dr. Neda Jevaherian, a consultative examining physician. The first five physicians addressed Plaintiff's physical conditions. Dr. Jevaharian assessed Plaintiff's psychological impairments.

a) Dr. Moon Chang, M.D.

Ms. Vasquez began receiving treatment from Dr. Moon Chang, M.D. at Kaiser Permanente in July 2007. AR 229-330, 374, 375-426, 428-468. Plaintiff told her primary Dr. Chang that she had a cough and shortness of breath during exertion for the past four years, and smoked one pack of cigarettes per day. AR 266. Dr. Chang told Plaintiff to stop smoking. AR 267.

At that time, Plaintiff underwent a chest x-ray that showed bilateral chronic interstitial changes. AR 279-80. In August 2007, a chest CT scan showed "extensive" interstitial lung disease. AR 285-86.

In May 2008, Plaintiff complained of joint pain and fatigue, and reported that she was trying to quit smoking. AR 249. She breathed with normal effort and showed normal breath sounds, and no respiratory distress. AR 249-250. Plaintiff said she was not taking pain medication, and she had normal range of motion. AR 249-250. Later that month, Dr. Chang noted that Plaintiff was using supplemental oxygen since April 2008, and that Plaintiff said she felt better after she stopped smoking. AR 247. Plaintiff was not coughing or wheezing, but she reported some shortness of breath on exertion. AR 247. There were no reports of psychological distress. AR 247.

In September 2008, Plaintiff was doing better, had no respiratory distress or coughing, but felt shortness of breath on exertion. AR 241-242. Dr. Moon told Plaintiff to use oxygen only when ambulating. AR 242. Plaintiff underwent a chest CT scan in October 2008, which was unchanged from her last examination in August 2007. AR 314-15.

Dr. Chang saw Plaintiff again in January 2009, and noted that she had "some" shortness of breath, but no wheezing, no respiratory distress, and normal breath sounds. AR 233. Dr. Chang noted again in February 2009 that Plaintiff did not cough or wheeze, but had shortness of breath. AR 231. He diagnosed her with chronic respiratory failure, interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity. AR 232.

On July 17, 2009, Dr. Chang again diagnosed plaintiff with interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and respiratory failure. Dr. Chang gave Plaintiff a fair to poor prognosis. He found that she could only lift less than ten pounds occasionally, rarely lift ten pounds, and never lift twenty pounds or over. AR 374. The doctor also opined that Plaintiff would be unable to work continuously because of severe shortness of breath and would be absent from work more than four days per month due to breathing problems. AR 374.

In January 2010, Plaintiff underwent another chest x-ray, which showed that her lung disease had not changed since January 2009. AR 425, 467. In February 2010, Dr. Chang noted mild interstitial lung disease, shortness of breath. AR 415. He also noted that Ms. Vasquez required an oxygen tank when ambulating, and a CPAP machine while sleeping for sleep apnea. AR 427.

b) Dr. Nkiruka Akabike, M.D.

Ms. Vasquez also received treatment from Nkiruka Akabike, MD, at Kaiser Permanente from June through November 2009. AR 428-468. In November 2009, Dr. Akabike described Ms. Vasquez' prognosis as guarded. AR 363. Dr. Akabike opined that Ms. Vasquez has limited ability to function due to her severe breathing problems. AR 363-366. Specifically, the doctor opined that Plaintiff could stand and walk up to two hours, could do no lifting, and could not sit continuously, AR 364. Dr. Akabike also noted that Ms. Vasquez was undergoing treatment for anxiety and depression. AR 365, 453-456.

c) Dr. John Sedgh, M.D.

Dr. John Sedgh, M.D. a consultative examiner evaluated Plaintiff's lung condition in May 2009. AR 331. His tests revealed moderate obstruction. AR 331.

d) Dr. Camille Williams, M.D. and Dr. Beig., M.D.

In June 2009, state agency physician Dr. Camille Williams, M.D., reviewed Plaintiff's records. AR 344-46. Dr. Williams reviewed Dr. Sedgh's consultative pulmonary function test in addition to the treatment notes. She stated that medical records were unclear as to why Plaintiff needed to use supplemental oxygen, but that Plaintiff appeared to use it as a "matter of course." AR. 346. Dr. Williams opined that Plaintiff could stand and walk for up to six hours, and sit for up to six hours, in an eight hour day; lift ...


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