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Castaneda v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 1, 2014

MICHELLE ESCOTO CASTANEDA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REVERSING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND ORDERING REMAND

BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Michelle Castaneda ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, respectively.[1] Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c), the parties consented to conduct all further proceedings in this case before the Honorable Barbara A. McAuliffe, United States Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 7, 8.) The matter is before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe. Having carefully considered the parties' briefs as well as the entire record in this case, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision is REVERSED and the case REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On May 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed her disability applications. AR 10.[2] Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 81, 88, 174, 206. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ALJ Sanya Hill-Maxion held a hearing on March 12, 2012 and issued an order denying benefits on April 6, 2012. AR 10-24. On June 3, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1. This appeal followed.

Hearing Testimony

At the hearing, Plaintiff, represented by Gina Fazio, testified that she completed two years of college, receiving specialized job training in phlebotomy and nursing; she is a licensed phlebotomist and legal blood alcohol level specialist. AR 252, 291. Plaintiff testified that, prior to becoming disabled, she had always worked more than one job. AR 43. While working full time as an emergency room ward clerk/technician and in a rehabilitation department, she also had part-time jobs for the District Attorney drawing blood for DUIs and drug felonies, at the county jail drawing blood and preparing inmates for physical examinations, and for a temp agency doing home care as a restorative aid. AR 43.

When asked about her daily activities, Plaintiff stated she prepared microwave breakfasts for her children and then drove them to school. AR 50-51. Plaintiff testified that she could make beds and do laundry but because she experiences constant pain she is unable to sweep or mop. AR 52. She also no longer went grocery shopping because of her pain. AR 52. She slept for about a half-hour during the day and additionally needed to lie down to rest between household tasks, three times a day for about a half-hour at a time. AR 53.

When asked about her limitations, Plaintiff testified that she could walk about a block-and-a-half before having to stop; stand for no more than 30 minutes; lift one gallon of milk but not two; and she could sit for 30 to 40 minutes if she leaned forward. AR 51-52. When sitting, she was in a recliner; she watched television news and read a lot; and she went to church twice a week where they had a special recliner for her to sit in. AR 54. She used a cane every day, beginning in 2009, and she was in a wheelchair for four months in 2010 because she had woken up one morning and could not move. AR 55. Both the cane and the wheelchair were given to her by her friends in rehabilitation. AR 54-55.

Plaintiff complained that she had constant pain on both sides of her neck and her lower left back side, which was worsened by exercise and walking. AR 57. Plaintiff said she had never had taken proper medications because she did not have medical insurance-one of the medications prescribed for her cost a hundred dollars a bottle. AR 57.

When asked by the ALJ whether she had sought mental health treatment during the last three to four years, Plaintiff responded in the negative. AR 58.

Vocational Expert's Testimony

Thereafter, the ALJ elicited testimony of the vocational expert Joel Greenberg. The ALJ presented a hypothetical question contemplating an individual limited to light work; who was unable to engage in grasping or gripping; could not push or pull; had unrestricted ability to perform fine and gross manipulation bilaterally; needed to avoid ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and dangerous machinery requiring depth perception; needed to use wrist supports at work; if keyboarding needed proper equipment; needed to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes; and needed to wear shoes with closed toes. AR 59. The hypothetical question also involved someone who was able to understand and remember 1-2 step tasks; was able to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for 2-hour increments; could interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers, and the public; and could adapt to routine workplace changes, and hazards. AR 60.

VE Joel Greenberg testified at the hearing, by reference to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), that the hypothetical individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 60. The VE then testified however that there were jobs that existed in the national economy that a hypothetical individual could ...


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