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Rangel v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 26, 2015

WILLIAM RANGEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

KENLY KIYA KATO, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff William Rangel seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Agency") denying his application for 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 August 15, 2011, Plaintiff submitted an application for SSI. Administrative Record ("AR") at 16. The application was denied initially on March 1, 2012, and upon reconsideration on June 29, 2012. Id.

On July 13, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id . On November 2, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Evelyn M. Gunn. Id . On December 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. Id.

On January 3, 2013, Plaintiff asked the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 12. On March 31, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1.

On June 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation ("JS"), filed February 5, 2015, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument.

II.

RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. General Information

Plaintiff was born on August 4, 1987, and his alleged disability onset date is March 1, 2011. Id. at 125. Plaintiff was 23 years old at the time of the onset date, and 25 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ.

Plaintiff completed the eleventh grade. Id. at 146. While in school, Plaintiff received "above average grades" and was enrolled in regular, as opposed to special education, courses. Id.

Plaintiff alleges disability based upon "[s]urgery on head, " "weak left side, " and "memory issue." Id . As will be explained further below, Plaintiff alleges he is unable to work due to a stroke[1] that occurred in January 2011, while he lived in Mexico, [2] and due to subsequent brain surgery.[3]

B. Medical Evidence

1. Treatment at Central Neighborhood Health Foundation

Plaintiff was treated intermittently at the Central Neighborhood Health Foundation between September 2011 and April 2012. Plaintiff received a physical examination on September 15, 2011, and was described as "alert and oriented, " "in no apparent distress, " and "well-developed and nourished." Id. at 226. Plaintiff complained about "right arm and leg weakness, loss of memory, loss of balance, " and blurry vision in the right eye. Id.

At Plaintiff's final treatment session on April 18, 2012, he described his general health as "poor, " saying he had "[d]ifficulty walking two blocks" and suffered from "[f]ainting spells or loss of consciousness." Id. at 266.

2. Consultative Neurological Evaluation

On December 9, 2011, Plaintiff received a neurological evaluation by Dr. Sarah Maze, at the request of the California Department of Social Services. Id. at 237. Plaintiff complained about "weakness in the left arm and left leg"; "reduction of short-term recall"; and slowed speech and movement. Id. at 237-38. The neurological examination revealed Plaintiff to be "alert, " "pleasant, cooperative, and attentive." Id. at 238. Plaintiff was able to "recall three of three items at one and five minutes." Id . Dr. Maze found Plaintiff had "left arm and left leg weakness, " but stated that "[o]ngoing improvement is definitely expected." Id. at 240. Dr. Maze found Plaintiff "is able to stand and walk alone, " but noted Plaintiff "appeared somewhat unsteady." Id. at 239. Dr. Maze found Plaintiff's "[i]ntellectual functioning appears to be in the normal range." Id.

3. Treatment at LAC USC Medical Center

On August 30, 2011, Plaintiff received a triage assessment at the Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Medical Center ("LAC USC"). Id. at 216. According to the assessment, Plaintiff spoke in "full clear sentences, ambulate[d] with steady gait, " but suffered from "intermittent dizziness." Id.

Plaintiff was treated intermittently at LAC USC from May 2012 to September 2012. See id. at 271-326. The ALJ's decision accurately summarizes the treatment records from this period as follows:

[In May 2012], the claimant was noted to be fully alert and was "ambulatory without difficulty with strong steady gait." Also, despite alleging left-sided weakness, the claimant was noted to have equal grip strength. (Exhibit 8F:45-46). A June 2012 brain MRI scan revealed the surgical changes from the right posterior parietal craniectomy, and a head angiogram revealed no abnormalities or signs of further arteriovenous malformation. (Exhibit 8F:8, 28-31).

Id. at 19; see also id. at 316 (noting Plaintiff was "ambulatory with strong steady unassisted gait [without] devices").

4. Consultative Psychological Evaluation

On February 2, 2012, Plaintiff received a complete psychological evaluation by Dr. Baharen Talei. Id. at 251. Dr. Talei's evaluation states Plaintiff had a "slightly atypical" posture and gait, though he was "able to independently ambulate." Id . According to the evaluation, Plaintiff complained his stroke "resulted in cognitive impairment, " and denied "any history of mental disorder, treatment, distress, suicidal ideation or psychiatric hospitalization." Id. at 251-52.

After performing a mental status examination on Plaintiff, Dr. Talei found Plaintiff was socially "pleasant and cooperative"; Plaintiff's response time and work pace were "within normal limits"; Plaintiff was "oriented to person, time, place and purpose of the examination"; Plaintiff's speech was "clear"; Plaintiff's thoughts were "organized in a linear manner"; psychomotor slowing was "not evident"; Plaintiff's current intellectual functioning was "in the mild range of mental retardation to borderline range"; Plaintiff's short-term memory, long-term memory, and "attention and concentration span" were all "moderately diminished"; and Plaintiff's "insight and judgment" were "fair." Id. at 253. Dr. Talei determined Plaintiff's full-scale IQ score was 65. Id. at 254.

Regarding Plaintiff's ability to work, Dr. Talei wrote:

[T]he claimant would be able to understand, remember and carry out short, simplistic instructions without difficulty. However, due to cognitive impairment, he presents with a moderate inability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions. He would be able to make simplistic work-related decisions without special supervision.... He presents with an intact ability to interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers and peers on a consistent basis.

Id. at 255.

C. Plaintiff's Pre-Hearing Allegations

In a Function Report dated October 17, 2011, Plaintiff wrote that he lives with his mother in an apartment. Id. at 155. In response to a question about what he does from the time he wakes up until he goes to bed, Plaintiff stated he "clean[s] the apartment and surf[s] the internet." Id . Plaintiff stated he does not take care of any other people or any pets. Id. at 156. Plaintiff stated that, before he became disabled, he "was able to exercise and think straight [and] remember things [he] did the next day." Id . Plaintiff stated that now he "can't work out, run, or balance" himself. Id.

Plaintiff wrote he needs reminders to take medicine. Id. at 157. He statedhe prepares sandwiches for himself daily. Id . Plaintiff wrote he washes dishes and sweeps the apartment for 20 minutes per day, and that he does not need help doing so. Id . Plaintiff claimed he "rarely" goes outside, and that he cannot go out alone because he does not know if he will "have another stroke." Id. at 158. Plaintiff wrote he does not drive because he does not have a license or car. Id . Plaintiff stated he can pay attention for 30 minutes; can follow written instructions; and can follow spoken instructions "at the time requested." Id. at 160. In response to a question about whether he needs to be reminded to go places, Plaintiff answered, "No." Id. at 159. Plaintiff wrote he gets along well with authority figures, and handles changes in routine well. Id. at 161. Plaintiff stated he does not need crutches, a cane, a walker, or a wheel chair. Id.

D. ALJ Hearing

1. Plaintiff's ...


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