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Munroe v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 24, 2014

YVETTE K. MUNROE, Plaintiff,

For Yvette K. Munroe, Plaintiff: Steven Gilberto Rosales, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, Santa Fe Springs, CA.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Alex Gene Tse, U.S. Attorneys Office, San Francisco, CA; Marla Kendall Letellier, Office of the Regional Chief Counsel, Region IX, Social Security Administration, San Francisco, CA.


MARIA-ELENA JAMES, United States Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Yvette K. Munroe (" Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (" Defendant"), denying Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 16, 24. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 16-5, the motions have been submitted on the papers without oral argument. Having carefully reviewed the parties' positions, the Administrative Record (" AR"), and relevant legal authority, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's motion and GRANTS Defendant's cross-motion for the reasons set forth below.


Plaintiff is a 43-year-old woman that alleges disability due to depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, neck pain, lower back pain, and fibromyalgia. AR 29. In an undated Disability Report, Plaintiff states that she has suffered from " depression, insomnia, anxiety, lack of energy, neck and back pain . . . since [she] can remember, " and that her condition limits her ability to work because she is in constant back, shoulder, and neck pain. AR 170. She states that she became unable to work on July 31, 2003. AR 170. Plaintiff lists previous work experience including as an Administrative Assistant, Server in a restaurant, and as a Collector and Customer Representative for a credit card company. AR 171.

A. Physical Health Treatment Records

Plaintiff's treatment records indicate that she was a patient at the Berkeley Health Center from March 2005 through October 2010, where she was treated for insomnia, depression, and chronic neck and upper back pain. AR 622-65. On May 5, 2010, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. AR 624.

On September 14, 2009, Omar C. Bayne, M.D., conducted a consultative examination on behalf of the Social Security Administration (" SSA"). AR 387-89. Based on his examination, Dr. Bayne determined that Plaintiff had no visual, hearing, or speech impairment, and that she could drive or take public transportation without limitation. AR 389. He concluded that Plaintiff could stand and walk for a total of 4 to 6 hours per 8-hour workday; sit for up to 6 hours per workday; stooping, crouching, and repetitive bending should be limited to occasionally; kneeling, crawling, and squatting should be limited to occasionally; climbing ladders should be restricted; there was no limitation in performing repetitive leg, ankle, and foot control frequently; she should be able to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; she could perform fine and gross hand, wrist, and finger manipulation on a frequent basis; she could grip, grasp, push, and pull with both hands frequently; she should be able to reach and work with both arms above the shoulder level frequently; she could flex and extend both elbows frequently; and she should be able to work in any environment, except unprotected heights. AR 389.

Plaintiff underwent a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment on September 28, 2009, with M. Acinas, M.D., a state agency physician. AR 390-94. Dr. Acinas found that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds and frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour day; sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; had unlimited pushing/pulling; could frequently climb stair and ladders; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; had no manipulative limitations, such as reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling; had no visual or communicative limitations; and had no environmental limitations, such as from exposure to noise, wetness, and extreme cold or heat. AR 391-93.

In December 2010, rheumatologist Dr. Brian Kaye completed an initial consultation. AR 752-55. On physical examination, Dr. Kaye determined that Plaintiff was " an overweight but otherwise well-developed, well-nourished and healthy appearing young African American woman in no apparent distress." AR 752-53. Dr. Kaye found that Plaintiff had fibromyalgia, with " widespread musculoskeletal pain lasting more than three months with more than 11/18 tender points." AR 754-55. He noted that she had " gotten some good benefit from the Lyrica" and stated that he would like to see her do some more physical exercise once she started feeling better. AR 755.

On May 3, 2011, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Kaye that her flare-ups were better. AR 798. He noted that Plaintiff was not doing enough exercise and suggested that she increase her exercise by five minutes every week. AR 798-99. On September 13, 2011, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Kaye that her new medication had been very helpful and that she was " very happy with how she [was] doing." AR 806.

B. Mental Health Treatment Records

In January 2008, Plaintiff was referred to psychiatrist Dr. Michelle Clark for feelings of depression. AR 320. The referring physician had already been treating Plaintiff with Zoloft and Elavil for her depression and insomnia. AR 320. During her initial visit with Dr. Clark, Plaintiff described an abusive childhood, a strong family history of depression, and being beaten and raped by her former spouse. AR 481-83. Dr. Clark diagnosed her with Major Depression, Recurrent, Severe, non-psychotic, and assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning[1] of 45. AR 483.

When Plaintiff saw Dr. Clark in October 2008, she noted some improvement with the medications. AR 478. Plaintiff reported that she was feeling better, had more clarity, and was not crying. AR 478. During a follow-up visit in December 2008, Plaintiff reported continuing reduction of depressive symptoms. AR 476. However, in February 2009, Dr. Clark noted Plaintiff's report that her medication was less effective, with Plaintiff stating that she " just can't handle life" and that she felt " exhausted." AR 474. In April and May 2009, Dr. Clark noted some improvement with Plaintiff's mood symptoms. AR 471-72. Plaintiff reported that she was feeling better and that she had started back working out. AR 472.

In September 2009, Plaintiff reported worsening symptoms, stating that the medication was not working and that she felt worse than before. AR 466. Dr. Clark noted symptoms of anergia, hypersomnia, excessive eating with weight gain, and passive suicidal thoughts. AR 466-67. Although Dr. Clark changed Plaintiff's medications to Wellbutrin and Lunesta (AR 467), by January 2010 Dr. Clark noted that the medications were not working to reduce Plaintiff's symptoms and she was experiencing panic attacks with tremulousness and palpitations, with a sense of " falling apart." AR 462. Dr. Clark added Lexapro to the medication regimen, and Plaintiff reported improvement in February 2010. AR 460, 463. She told Dr. Clark that she was " much better" and " much calmer" with no more heart palpitations. AR 460. Dr. Clark noted that Plaintiff had excellent hygiene, a cooperative attitude, normal speech, congruent affect, good judgment, and good insight and impulse control. AR 461. During the February visit, Dr. Clark also noted that Plaintiff's cognition and thought process were normal, her medication response was positive, and that she had no side effects from her medication. AR 461.

On September 14, 2009, Plaintiff underwent a psychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Morton Felix, Ph.D. AR 381-85. Dr. Felix noted that Plaintiff was " a very bright woman, " and that her knowledge, insight, and judgment appeared adequate. AR 382. Based on Plaintiff's mental distress in the past, Dr. Felix found " there appears to be a mental disorder . . . which would have affected her vocational consistency if no physical problems existed." AR 385. He diagnosed her with depressive disorder, which may exist independently of her physical problems, and ruled out posttraumatic stress disorder. AR 384. However, he stated that further information was needed for a reasonable evaluation of her capacity to function adaptively and vocationally. AR 384.

On October 13, 2009, State agency psychologist P. Davis, Psy.D., reviewed Plaintiff's mental health treatment records and concluded that she had mild restrictions in activities of daily living and social functioning, and moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence and pace. AR 401-14.

In September 2010, Plaintiff began attending group therapy and individual counseling sessions with psychologists at Rubicon. AR 746. She also received individual treatment there from psychiatrist Dr. Brandon Vance. AR 741, 793-94. During his initial assessment in October 2010, Dr. Vance diagnosed Plaintiff with Anxiety NOS (possible posttraumatic stress disorder) and Major Depressive Order, recurrent. AR 793. Dr. Vance noted that Plaintiff's anxiety and depressive symptoms " wax and wane over time, " but that her levels had stabilized during her treatment at Rubicon. AR 793. Dr. Vance also diagnosed major depressive disorder, recurrent, with a Global Assessment Function score of 43. AR 777.

On August 25, 2011, Plaintiff's therapist at Rubicon noted that she had " made significant progress in her ability to develop stronger resiliency and maintenance of her awareness of her environment." AR 845. She was " alert x4" and while stressed due to family issues, she was calm with no pressure in her speech. AR 845. Her speech was " articulate and clear, thoughts were organized and thoughtful." AR 845. On August 31, 2011, Plaintiff reported that her medications were managing her pain better and that she was sleeping six to eight hours per night. AR 844. She reported feeling much more capable of handling a stressful family situation due to her treatment. AR 844.

C. Function Report

On July 7, 2009, Plaintiff completed an SSA Function Report. AR 191-98. She listed daily activities including preparing meals, home schooling her 15-year-old son, teaching the Bible, cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, doing dishes, and mopping. AR 191-93. Plaintiff stated that she needs help to do these things, otherwise she would have to stay in bed for a few days, and that there are days in which she is unable to get out of bed due to anxiety and depression. AR 192-93. She also stated that she is able to drive on her own, including going to church and shopping for groceries and personal ...

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