United States District Court, E.D. California
BARBARA J. PITT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant
For Barbara J. Pitt, Plaintiff: Vijay Jagdish Patel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, Santa Fe Springs, CA.
For Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Susan L. Smith, GOVT, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Region IX, San Francisco, CA; Alyson A. Berg, ss, United States Attorney's Office, Fresno, CA.
ORDER AFFIRMING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND ORDERING JUDGMENT FOR COMMISSIONER
Sandra M. Snyder, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff Barbara J. Pitt 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"). The matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to the undersigned United States 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 May 11, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance and SSI benefits. In the application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning December 1, 2009. The Commissioner initially denied the claims on September 16, 2010, and upon reconsideration again denied the claims on March 10, 2011. On March 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
On March 29, 2011, Plaintiff appeared and testified in front of Robert E. Lowenstein, Administrative Law Judge (" the ALJ"). See 20 C.F.R. 404.929 et seq . An impartial vocational expert, Susan T. Moranda, appeared and testified telephonically.
On April 13, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied review on August 7, 2013, thus the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h). On October 2, 2012, 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 (November 16, 2011)
Plaintiff, born March 3, 1955, lived alone in her one-story house at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff is able to communicate in English and completed high school. Plaintiff testified that she last worked in 2008 as a bookkeeper. Plaintiff testified that she was not currently working and had not worked since being terminated from her job in 2008.
Plaintiff testified that the primary problem currently keeping her from working was her " high anxiety and nervousness, " that she " cannot concentrate . . . for a long period of time, " and that she " can't really sit too long, " because she starts getting cramps in her legs. She reported that she can focus for " maybe an hour, maybe 15 minutes. It all depends . . . ." Plaintiff stated that she had sought work, but due to her concentration problems she could not return to her previous work as a bookkeeper. She also testified that she had pain " all the time" in her lower back, the center of her back and her left shoulder. Plaintiff testified that her treating doctor, Dr. Sorensen, told her it was a pinched nerve and that nerve damage caused the numbness in her left hand. The ALJ asked the Plaintiff if anything else kept her from working, and Plaintiff responded " I don't have any money to get gas." When the ALJ told her that lack of funds would not impact the disability finding, the Plaintiff responded, " I -- I'm not comfortable driving because I'm dizzy and I'm on a lot of medication." Plaintiff stated that she drove herself 45 minutes to the hearing. Plaintiff testified that she maintained her driver's license and drove occasionally.
Plaintiff testified that she managed her self-care. Plaintiff reported that she was able to handle finances, and shop for food and clothes. Plaintiff stated that she was capable of household chores such as cooking meals, shopping, doing dishes, laundry, making her bed, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, and raking leaves, though her neighbor helped to take out her garbage cans and a friend mowed her lawn. Plaintiff described her typical daily activities as follows: getting up and making a meal for herself, getting dressed and " get[ing] myself going, " reading, " try[ing] to do something to keep my mind going, " making a lunchtime meal, walking " a little bit . . . maybe a couple houses down, " resting in the afternoon, eating dinner, resting again, then having phone calls with friends and family in the evening before bed. She said that she socialized with people on the telephone multiple times per week. Plaintiff stated that she had a big family and " they try to help, " for example, by paying her phone bill, bringing her groceries and " other things." She reported that she did not receive any government assistance or food stamps.
Plaintiff alleged onset of disability in December 2009, post-dating her termination from her previous job as a bookkeeper, and reported that she has had concentration and back problems since before 2008. She testified that on a scale of one to ten, her static back pain is " close to an eight, nine . . . sometimes ten." The pain was made worse by bending down, and sometimes causes her such pain that she " can hardly breathe anymore, " and cannot sleep. To manage her pain, Plaintiff reported taking over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, as well as having prescriptions from Dr. Sorensen for other issues, including calcium carbonate for osteoporosis prevention, lorazepam for psoriasis and anxiety, levothyroxine for thyroid, vitamin D for bone health, and prednisone for psoriasis. She stated that she also treated her condition by resting.
Plaintiff estimated that she could walk approximately 15 minutes before needing to rest, stand for 15-20 minutes before she had to sit, stand for two to three hours cumulatively in an eight-hour workday, sit for two hours at a time, sit for three to four hours cumulatively in an eight-hour workday, and could lift approximately ten pounds occasionally, but less than ten pounds frequently. Plaintiff testified she was approximately five feet one inches tall and weighed 100 pounds.
Plaintiff complained of mental impairments. Other than her regular doctor, Plaintiff testified that she had not received any treatment for and was not seeing a specialist or mental health professional about her anxiety, concentration, or any other mental health issues.
B. Adult Function Report
In an Adult Function Report dated June 3, 2010, Plaintiff complained of back pain and anxiety. Plaintiff reported that her medical condition limited her ability to work because she " can't concentrate well." Plaintiff reported that the job she performed the longest was " assistant bookkeeper" apparently at RFMC Construction in Fresno, her only employer between 1993-2008. She reported having been fired or laid from a job at RFMC Construction because she had problems getting along with other people.
Plaintiff wrote that she was able to prepare her own meals, she did housework such as laundry and light cleaning approximately " 3 times per week, " and she did not require assistance to do them. She reported that she gets around well and tries to go outside every day. She listed that she walked or drove a car, could go out alone, and shopped in stores for food and essentials for " a couple of hours, " approximately once per week. She wrote that she could count change and use a checkbook or money orders, but was unable to pay bills or handle a savings account only because she had no money or savings account.
When prompted to detail her daily activities, she explained:
I try to exercise and keep my muscles going. My back hurts really bad every day. I can't sleep at night, so I am exhausted every day. I eat what I can. I try to read to keep my mind going. I have very high anxiety. Feel depressed. I am going through menopause, night sweats, tired, fatigue. I pray a lot. I watch some tv before I try to sleep. I take a shower and I always feel dizzy and light headed. Nervous.
She listed her hobbies and interests as reading daily for one hour and watching television " 2 [two] hours in the evening." She reported that she regularly spent time with others on the phone " every day that I feel good enough." She did not need to be reminded to go places, she " sometimes" needed someone to accompany her, but did not have any problems getting along with family, friends, neighbors, or others. She explained that she did not socialize " hardly at all" because she " can't do much with back pain all the time."
Plaintiff complained that when she stood for too long she got " dizzy, " " short of breath, " and when she went out she was " afraid to fall." Plaintiff wrote that she: did not sleep well, was easily tired, could only concentrate for short periods, could walk about 50 feet before resting for two hours, only " sometimes" finished what she started, followed written instructions " not well, " and spoken instructions " sometimes good, sometimes not well." Plaintiff reported getting along with authority figures " good." She reported that she did not handle stress or changes in routine well. She reported that she had an unusual level of stress and anxiety, was " always stressed, " " always" had unusual behavior or fears, and had days when she felt " too bad" to go outside. When asked to describe the details of her unusual behavior or fears, she wrote only, " I am always." She estimated that she could lift 20 pounds, but that her condition limited her lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, walking, kneeling, stair-climbing, memory, completing tasks, and concentration. She did not provide information about how she treated her condition. Plaintiff left blank the " Remarks" section for added information.
C. Medical Evidence
The ALJ properly considered the following medical records and opinions. The objective medical evidence confirmed the diagnosis of psoriasis, hypothyroidism, menopause, anxiety, fatigue, depression, and alcohol dependence. The medical evidence confirmed that Plaintiff received treatment for some of these complaints from various physicians between 2009 and 2012. During this time, there are periods during which ...