United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER AFFIRMING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND ORDERING JUDGMENT FOR COMMISSIONER
SANDRA M. SNYDER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Jackie Rose Young, by her attorneys, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II and for supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq. ) ("the Act"). This action was initially referred to the undersigned pursuant to Local Rule 302(c)(15), and both parties voluntarily consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all purposes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Sandra M. Snyder, U.S. Magistrate Judge. Following a review of the complete record and applicable law, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to be supported by substantial evidence.
I. Procedural History
On June 2, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Plaintiff alleges onset of disability on April 30, 2002. The Commissioner initially denied the claims on October 26, 2010, and upon reconsideration again denied the claims on January 25, 2011. On February 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
On July 13, 2012, and represented by counsel, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a video hearing presided over by Patricia Leary Flierl, Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). See 20 C.F.R. 404.929 et seq. An impartial vocational expert, Jose L. Chaparro, also appeared and testified.
On August 17, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied review on March 2, 2013. The ALJ's decision thus became the Commissioner's final decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h). On June 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking this Court's review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
II. Administrative Record
A. Plaintiff's Testimony (July 13, 2012)
Plaintiff, born March 11, 1976, lived with her husband and three children (ages 12, 15, and 17 years at the time of the hearing). Plaintiff completed high school, received her certified nurse assistant ("CNA") certificate, and was able to communicate in English. Plaintiff testified that she last worked for a short period in 2002 at a fast food restaurant. Plaintiff testified that she was not currently working and had not worked since 2002.
Plaintiff testified that in 1999 her duties as a CNA included taking vitals, charting vitals, assisting patients, and lifting them "from the bed to the wheelchair or from the wheelchair to the bed." She reported that the patients could be as much as 250-300 pounds and she would lift them either with their assistance or by herself using a belt lift. She testified that her CNA work was a full-time job. As a fast-food worker in 2002, Plaintiff testified that she worked as a part-time cashier.
Plaintiff alleged onset of disability in 2002 due to slipped discs, scoliosis, herniated discs, ADHD, arthritis, degenerative discs, constant neck pain and back pain which causes migraine headaches. Plaintiff testified that she stopped working because "I'm in, it's just too much pain, too much pain to be on my feet or, for a certain amount of time or sit down for a certain amount of time." She testified that she experienced pain "all the time" in her upper back, neck, head, legs, and hips, as well as experienced problems due to her ADHD, asthma and anxiety. She reported that she ranked the pain without medication as an eight out of ten, but with medication only a four or five.
To manage her pain, Plaintiff testified that she took the fibromyalgia medication Gabapentin, over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen, as well as Advair for her asthma. Plaintiff testified that she had received physical therapy treatment which eased her pain and that it "made it easier for me to go through, through a few days without really being in pain and getting migraines." She also reported having received pain shots in her back, though the treatment had not taken her pain away completely. Plaintiff testified that she was not currently receiving any mental health treatment.
Plaintiff described that in a typical day she spends six to eight hours lying down to ease her back pain. She reported that her physical therapist had advised resting with her feet elevated. Describing her daily activities, Plaintiff testified that she cooks every day and makes dinner "and stuff" for her children. Due to her pain, Plaintiff reported doing housework for a maximum 20 minutes before resting for 10-15 minutes. She testified that her husband and children do the heavier housework. Plaintiff maintained her driver's license and still drove alone, though avoided driving at night or for long distances. Plaintiff did not allege any mental impairments.
Plaintiff testified that the most weight that she could lift comfortably was eight pounds. She testified that it took her "a good four hours" to "do" her house because she stopped to take 10-15 minute breaks approximately every 20 minutes. Plaintiff stated that she could bend, and walk on uneven surfaces or unassisted up stairs, but not without corresponding pain; could touch her chin to her chest, but with pain; could squat if aided to stand; could kneel; could not crouch; likely could not climb a ladder; and could not move her head such that her chin would touch her shoulder. She testified that she could sit for approximately 20 minutes before she would need to stand up or reposition her body. She stated that she could stand still for "not even five minutes" due to pain. She further testified that she could walk "maybe five minutes without having to rest." Plaintiff reported no problems with personal care, bathing, or dressing herself. At the hearing, Plaintiff's attorney had the following exchange with Plaintiff about her typical daily activities:
Q And when you say you're at least able to function, what do you mean by that?
A I can do my housework, I should do with my kids, hang out with my kids, I, you know, what I'm supposed to do.
Q Okay, and when you say do your housework, what kinds of things do you do?
A I vacuum... I do the laundry, I cook, I do the kitchen.
Plaintiff testified that she had been in a serious car accident some years prior where her car had flipped and was "totaled." Plaintiff hypothesized that her anxiety issues stemmed from her car accident. She reported having "a small panic attack" if she sees "a car moving looking like it's not going to do the right thing." Other conditions had also prompted episodes, such as "sometimes at home when, when I worry about my kids, " where she defined "sometimes" as "maybe once or twice a month." She stated that her anxiety episodes lasted "maybe 20 minutes, " but that after that she was "fine." Plaintiff testified that she experienced difficulty concentrating and paying attention. She reported being able to pay attention for "maybe 15 minutes at a time, " after which she would "get distracted... looking around the room." She considered that she could concentrate for approximately 20 minutes at maximum, after which she needed a break of "about 15 minutes."
B. Adult Function Report
In an Adult Function Report dated August 2, 2010, Plaintiff wrote the following to describe her daily activities:
I wake up, stretch, so that I will [not] be so stiff, feed and take care of my children. I have to give them their meds. Make food for myself and husband. Then if it is a school day I will send my children to school or drive them myself. Then I lay down to rest a bit. Then I begin my day with house cleaning and shop[p]ing. When that is done I will lay down and rest because my back is hurting so I must rest for about one hour. By then it would be time for my two older children to be home. I will help them with homework and then [it] will be time to get my youngest - 6:00 - then come home, make dinner, clean kitchen and get kids ready for school the next day and ready for bed. Finally I get to rest and sleep.
Plaintiff further reported that she continued to shop in stores for food, clothing, and household items, and did so two to three times per month. She wrote that she was able to pay bills, handle a savings account, count change, and use her checkbook. In the same report, she wrote that her hobbies and interests were reading, watching television, playing with her children, and hanging out with her husband. As to her functional abilities, Plaintiff wrote that she could walk 1 ½ miles before needing to rest. When asked to describe how long she could pay attention, Plaintiff wrote "all the time." She affirmed that she could finish what she started, including conversations, chores, reading, and watching movies.
Plaintiff wrote that she spent time doing social activities such as visiting friends and family. She reported going to church regularly. She reported that she did not need someone to accompany her at these social activities. When prompted to answer whether she had problems getting along with family, friends, neighbors, or others, Plaintiff replied "No." When asked how well she got along with authority figures, Plaintiff wrote, "very well." She also wrote that she had never been fired or laid off from a job because of problems getting along with other people. Plaintiff noted that she did not handle stress well.
C. Third-Party Function Report
In a third-party adult function report dated August 2, 2010, Plaintiff's husband, Tim Young, wrote that on a typical day, Plaintiff "tries to keep house and raise kids." He reported that Plaintiff took care of him, the children, as well as a dog and cat. Mr. Young reported that both he and the children assisted by doing the "heavy lifting, " and walking, playing with, and feeding the animals. Mr. Young reported that Plaintiff had no problems with personal care, though needed reminders to take medicine. Mr. Young described that Plaintiff prepared meals at least once per day and that it took her approximately 30 minutes to do so. Plaintiff did household chores for two hours "every other day, " and some laundry. Mr. Young ...