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Quiroz v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 10, 2014

LEAH MAXINE QUIROZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

KENLY KIYA KATO, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Leah Maxine Quiroz seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Agency") denying her applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 2, 2011, Plaintiff filed separate applications for DIB and SSI. Administrative Record ("AR") at 195, 203. On August 18, 2011, the Agency denied the applications. Id. at 91, 102. On November 30, 2011, after reconsideration, the Agency affirmed the denial of the applications. Id. at 115, 127.

On January 14, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. at 155. On October 22, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Troy Silva. Id. at 52. On October 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. Id. at 28.

On November 9, 2012, Plaintiff asked the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 24. On March 6, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 4.

On June 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. This matter is before the Court on the parties' motions for summary judgment, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. See ECF Nos. 18, 19.

II.

RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on March 8, 1963, and her alleged disability onset date ("AOD") is March 30, 2009. AR at 91. Plaintiff alleges disability based upon fusion of the lower back, nerve damage in both legs, back injury, and severe depression. Id. Plaintiff was 46 years old at the time of the AOD, and 49 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Plaintiff graduated from high school, and last worked in March 2009 as a slot attendant at a casino. Id. at 57, 110. Plaintiff previously worked as an activities assistant, prep cook, and cashier. Id. at 110-11.

A. Treating Sources

1. Dr. S.G. Sharif

Dr. S.G. Sharif, a family medicine practitioner, treated Plaintiff several times between October 10, 2008, and July 17, 2012. See id. at 396-407, 462-467, 530-35. Dr. Sharif treated Plaintiff for various ailments, including back pain, urinary tract problems, and mental health issues. Id. Dr. Sharif prescribed various medications to treat Plaintiff's ailments, including Klonopin, Ranitidine, Cymbalta, Oxycodone, Neurontin, Tramdol, Soma, Macrobid, Motrin, and Norco. Id.

2. Dr. Mark Ramirez

Plaintiff saw Dr. Mark Ramirez, a primary care physician, on May 31, 2012, and June 26, 2012, for a two-part annual physical exam. See id. at 510-14. According to Dr. Ramirez's reports, Plaintiff had chronic lumbar pain but her "pain meds decrease her chronic pain from 10 to 3, " so Dr. Ramirez recommended Plaintiff "continue them the same." Id. at 513. To address Plaintiff's back pain, Dr. Ramirez recommended a "physical therapy referral to assist with helping patient start appropriate exercise regimen." Id. at 511. (Dr. Ramirez also diagnosed Plaintiff with morbid obesity. Id.)

After the first part of the exam, pursuant to Dr. Ramirez's recommendation, Plaintiff increased her intake of Prozac. Id. at 510. After the second part of the exam, Dr. Ramirez reported that Plaintiff "believe[d]" her depression was "better." Id. Dr. Ramirez also stated he was "able to trim down [Plaintiff's] multitude of [medications] some without adverse effect." Id. at 511.

3. Dr. Edward A. Balbas

Between September 28, 2010, and September 5, 2012, Plaintiff received treatment approximately nine times at Crown City Rehabilitation Institute ("CCRI"). See id. at 391-95, 515-28, 562-66. There is no evidence she received treatment at CCRI between October 2010 and June 2011, or between December 2011 and August 2012. See id. Dr. Edward A. Balbas signed each of Plaintiff's progress reports from CCRI. A progress report dated December 15, 2011, stated: "Range of motion lumbar flexion, was limited to 30 degrees, lumbar extension, was limited to 15 degrees due to pain." Id. at 516. On that date and others, Plaintiff received "epidural injections to alleviate her pain." ECF No. 18 at 12; see also AR at 394, 516-19, 525, 563-66.

4. MFI Counseling Services

From September 14, 2011, to July 30, 2012, Plaintiff received counseling at least twelve times at MFI Counseling Services ("MFI"). AR at 484-92, 538-41. Plaintiff's counselors generally observed she appeared "tearful, " and diagnosed her with "depression, recurrent, severe." E.g., id. at 492. At one session, Plaintiff complained to her counselor that her "medical doctor" declined to submit a statement for her SSI application. Id. at 484. Plaintiff then asked the counselor to submit a statement for the application. Id. The counselor "inform[ed] [Plaintiff] that we usually do not fill out paperwork for SSI." Id.

5. Teresa Oltmans

Teresa Oltmans was Plaintiff's physical therapist. Ms. Oltmans performed an initial evaluation on August 14, 2012, and a followup evaluation on September 14, 2012. Id. at 544. In the followup evaluation, Ms. Oltmans found Plaintiff's back pain symptoms "disrupt" both sitting and standing within 15 to 60 minutes; Plaintiff is moderately impaired at lumbar sidebending and extensions; and Plaintiff is moderately impaired at lumbar flexion, with bending limited to somewhere between 20 to 39 degrees.[1] Id. at 544-45. Ms. Oltmans also noted Plaintiff's abilities to sit and stand improved between the initial and followup evaluations. Id.

B. Consultative Sources

1. Consultative Psychiatric Examination

On June 3, 2011, consultative examiner Dr. Romauldo R. Rodriguez performed a complete psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. After the evaluation, Dr. Rodriguez issued a report. According to the report:

- Plaintiff stopped working in March 2009 because of back pain and has not returned to work because of the pain. Id. at 415.
- "In the course of dealing with her stressors and her inability to work, [Plaintiff] describes symptoms of depression with sadness, withdrawal, irritability, sleep and appetite disturbances, feeling helpless, useless, and worthless. At times she feels that her life is not worth living but denies ever feeling suicidal." Id. at 416.
- Plaintiff was psychiatrically hospitalized once, when she was 45 years old. Id.
- Plaintiff performed various activities of daily living - running errands, driving, cooking - without any apparent assistance. Id. at 417.
- During the interview, Plaintiff appeared to be genuine and truthful, and to have good interpersonal skills. Id.
- Plaintiff "has been prescribed medication for her symptoms." However, "she is apparently not being compliant with her medications and has not bothered to have the medications refilled." Id. at 419.

Dr. Rodriguez concluded Plaintiff suffers from major depressive disorder. Id. However, he wrote that "as long as the claimant is properly treated for depression and she is compliant with her medications, she could easily recover from her symptoms in the next twelve months." Id. at 420.

2. Consultative Physical Examinations

On an unknown date, Plaintiff received a consultative physical examination by Dr. Bryan H. To. See id. at 422-25. Dr. To noted that Plaintiff complained of "range of motion" pain in her back. He found Plaintiff's range of motion "is decreased, " with Plaintiff capable of flexion of sixty degrees, extension of ten degrees, and lateral flexion of ten degrees. Id. at 424. Dr. To found Plaintiff's back pain did not "elicit true findings of nerve root irritation." Id.

On July 26, 2011, Plaintiff received another consultative examination, this time by Dr. Nizar Salek. See id. at 426-32. Dr. Salek noted Plaintiff's "chief complaint" was lower back pain. Id. at 426. Dr. Salek found Plaintiff is capable of lateral flexion of at least twenty degrees; extension of between zero and twenty-five degrees; and forward flexion of at least seventy degrees, "with significant pain in the lower back." Id. at 429. Dr. Salek diagnosed Plaintiff with (1) "[l]ower back pain, status post fusion and laminectomy, " (2) depression, and (3) obesity. Id. at 430-31.

C. Plaintiff's Pre-Hearing Allegations

In a Function Report dated March 26, 2011, Plaintiff claimed that, as a result of her physical and mental conditions, she was unable to clean her home and had difficulty bending "to put shoes or pants on" or "to wash lower parts of body." Id. at 263. Plaintiff stated she prepared food once a day. Id. at 264. Plaintiff claimed she only goes outside two to three times per month, and does not go out alone. Id. at 265. Plaintiff stated that she can "always" pay attention; she follows instructions "very well"; and she "only" has problems getting along with others when she is "going through my depressed moods." Id. at 267.

D. ALJ Hearing

1. Plaintiff's ...


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