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Uhl v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 19, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SANDRA M. SNYDER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jason Travis Uhl, by his attorneys, Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his 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. ยง 301 et seq. ) (the "Act"). The matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sandra M. Snyder, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

The sole issue in this case is whether the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) appropriately applied the provisions of SSR 13-2p to determine that Plaintiff would not be disabled but for his drug and alcohol abuse. 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 in the record as a whole and based on proper legal standards.

I. Procedural History

On September 23, 2009, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning December 18, 2007. The Commissioner initially denied the claims on May 6, 2010, and upon reconsideration, on October 22, 2010. On December 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.

Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing on February 9, 2012. Jose L. Chaparro, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified.

On March 9, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Christopher Larsen denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied review on May 21, 2013. On August 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking this Court's review.

II. Factual Summary of Administrative Record

Plaintiff's testimony. At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff (born October 14, 1977) lived with his mother and brother after living in his car for a year. He had become homeless after being arrested for domestic violence. Plaintiff spent his days visiting his girlfriend or running errands for his mother. He had not worked in more than six years.

Before attending Lemoore High School, Plaintiff attended special classes since he had difficulty concentrating, following directions, and getting along with others. He completed twelfth grade and subsequent training for a class A truck driver's license. From 2002 to 2004, he drove a beverage delivery truck, unloading alcoholic beverages weighing up to fifty pounds. He was fired from this job for mouthing off. He had retained the license but had let endorsements and his medical qualification lapse.

Plaintiff last worked for a temporary service, doing simple welding and working on production lines in chemical plants. He lost the job after fighting with a co-worker. Thereafter, he remained at home, caring for their two daughters while his partner worked. Plaintiff had also worked as a laborer and in construction. He thought he could do just about any job, depending on who he had to work with.

Plaintiff testified that he could not tolerate a co-worker with an attitude, and his mouth often got him into trouble:

I won't put up with anybody's BS, man. If I don't like what you have to say, I'm going to tell you what I think. If I don't like you, I'm going to let you know. I don't have to put up with anybody's crap. I don't feel I have to. I put up with it most of my life. I'm too old to put up with anybody's crap.

AR 44.

Plaintiff also testified that he had never been able to support himself but did not understand why.

Following a 2009 domestic violence conviction, [1] Plaintiff spent two weeks in jail, then participated in a year-long rehabilitation program.

Plaintiff was seeing a psychiatrist because his mother told him that he needed to. He had ADD and a short attention span, was easily irritated, and had difficulty understanding things. When Plaintiff was irritated, he became verbally aggressive. Because Plaintiff had no insurance or income, his mother paid for his psychiatric treatment out of pocket.

Although Plaintiff reported difficulty concentrating, he enjoyed watching movies and television, and playing video games for up to two hours with only a break to smoke or use the restroom. He could maintain his own personal hygiene. Although he was able to cook, Plaintiff was living at home where his mother did the cooking for the family. He helped clean the house, including his own room. He took care of his two daughters when they visited him.

Plaintiff had used marijuana since he was ten years old and considered it helpful in keeping his emotions level. He disagreed with his doctor, who thought all drugs were bad for him, including marijuana. Plaintiff also used methamphetamine "once or twice every couple of months, " but did not use alcohol. AR 63. Asked if he had ever had periods when he was not using drugs, Plaintiff replied that he had not smoked marijuana for the last two days. He candidly admitted that he liked being stoned and thought being sober was boring.

In an adult function report dated January 22, 2010, prepared by Plaintiff and his mother, Plaintiff reported that he was taking Depakote, which made it difficult for him to wake up after normal amounts of sleep. Following recent hand surgery, he was living in his car and having difficulty performing personal care. He was suffering from depression and isolating himself. He thought that people perceived him as angry and violent. He could not maintain attention for more than a few minutes. Plaintiff, who had recently been suicidal, was enrolled in an intensive outpatient psychiatric treatment program.

Plaintiff's uncle, Jim Fugate, prepared a third-party adult function report dated January 26, 2010, responding with answers that were substantially similar to those provided in Plaintiff's own report.

Medical reports. After an appointment with Plaintiff on September 22, 2009, Sreekanth Chava, M.D., reported that Plaintiff had a history of intermittent depression beginning at age fifteen or sixteen as well as a history of superficial cutting. As a teenager, he received individual therapy and medication management at Kings County Mental Health Center. Plaintiff had a long history of substance abuse, including nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, cocaine/crack, and energy pills. Although he had been sober for two to three weeks, he was then using nicotine, alcohol (12-18 beers per weekend), marijuana daily, benzodiazepines occasionally, cocaine/crack periodically, and energy pills daily.

Dr. Chava noted that in late August 2009, after drinking alcohol, smoking cannabis, and taking Xanax, Plaintiff and his partner of nine years had an altercation that resulted in Plaintiff's being charged with domestic violence and jailed for two weeks. He was on three years' probation. Because his partner had secured a restraining order, Plaintiff was at risk of becoming homeless. He complained of depressed mood, significant appetite change, decreased energy, guilt, hopelessness, decreased concentration, recurrent thoughts of death, feeling overwhelmed, and frequent mood swings.

Dr. Chava found Plaintiff fully oriented with attention and concentration within normal limits, memory intact, and fund of knowledge age appropriate. His impulse control was fair but insight and judgment were limited. He reported vague suicidal thoughts. Dr. Chava diagnosed:

Axis I: Polysubstance abuse, Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood, R/O MDD recurrent, R/O Substance induced mood disorder
Axis II: Cluster B traits [2]
Axis III: Patient Active Problem List[3]
Axis IV: problems with relationships, housing problems and economic problems
Axis V: 51-60 moderate problems.

AR 285.

Dr. Chava referred Plaintiff to Kaiser's chemical dependency service (CDRP) and the intensive outpatient psychiatric program.

On October 2, 2009, Plaintiff saw Burke Joseph Bonilla, M.D., the psychiatrist associated with CDRP. Reporting chronic suicidal ideation, Plaintiff intended to kill himself if his wife ended their relationship. He complained of chronic mood instability with accompanying anger, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff reported that he had been addicted to methamphetamine until he was arrested in 2004 and attended a rehabilitation program. He abused his wife's Xanax and his sister's Zoloft.

On September 28, 2009, psychologist Laura A. Lencioni, Psy.D., summarized her session with Plaintiff, following Dr. Chava's referral to the intensive outpatient program. Plaintiff had been sober since September 3. He hoped to reconcile with his family but his partner had secured a restraining order and sought full custody of their children. Plaintiff expected that he would be unable to participate in CDRP since he was about to lose his Kaiser coverage, which was a benefit of his ...

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