United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER AFFIRMING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND ORDERING JUDGMENT FOR COMMISSIONER INTRODUCTION
BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff Rodney Lopez ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, respectively. The matter is before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe. 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 upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits.
FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
In 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning September 1, 2009. AR 133-134. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration AR 76, 81. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 86-88. ALJ Danny Pittman held a hearing on May 14, 2012, and issued an order denying benefits on May 25, 2012. AR 12-19. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 25, 2013. AR 1-6. This appeal followed.
ALJ Pittman held a hearing on May 14, 2012 in Fresno, California. Plaintiff appeared and testified and was represented by attorney Robert Ishikawa.
Plaintiff was born on June 20, 1966 and was forty-five years old at the time of the hearing. AR 26. He has five daughters ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-five and one stepson. AR 27. He lives with his fiance, youngest daughter, stepson, and mother-in-law. AR 28. Plaintiff completed the eleventh grade. AR 29. He has not worked since September 2009 due his diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. AR 31. Plaintiff sees his primary care physician on the weekends at Madera Community Hospital. AR 31. He is currently taking Lexapro, Tramadol, and Motrin to cope with his illness. AR 32, 34. These medications do not have any adverse side effects and they help reduce his pain. AR 33, 35.
As a result of his condition, Plaintiff contends that his doctors told him not to lift anything over five to ten pounds and not to do any extended walking or standing. AR 32. He stated that he cannot sit for long periods of time because it hurts his lower back, and he experiences numbness on the right side of his leg left leg when getting up from the seated position. AR 34. He also has burning pain in his neck and shoulders, . AR 34. He reported that any kind of over exertion exacerbates his pain. AR 35. He has trouble carrying anything in his right hand, and can only carry as much as a twelve pack of soda in his left. AR 38. He can still button his pants, but he cannot put on his shoes or tie them. AR 38. Plaintiff claims that he has fallen over a dozen times because of his Parkinson's. AR 39. As a result, he uses a cane three to four days a week, however it is not prescribed by a doctor. AR 37, 50. He also has a hard time bending over because of weakness in his legs and because it causes nausea. AR 39.
When asked about his daily activities, Plaintiff stated that he gets up early every day to try and help get his daughter off to school. AR 40. She is an insulin dependent diabetic and requires on-going care. AR 28. His fiance quit her job to stay home and care for their daughter so they are currently relying on public assistance to meet their family's needs. AR 28-29. Plaintiff has a driver's license and drives often. AR 29. Sometimes he goes with his father to visit with his grandfather. AR 40. He stated that he usually only gets two to four hours of sleep a night because his racing thoughts keep him awake. AR 41. He sometimes takes two to three naps throughout the day to make up for his lack of sleep. AR 42.
His ability to care for himself has deteriorated. His fiance helps him get dressed. AR 42. He has not cooked, done dishes, or laundry in about two months. AR 43. It has been five or six months since the last time he vacuumed or helped with yard work. AR 43-44. When grocery shopping he cannot carry anything, but sometimes transfers the groceries from the cart to the car. AR 44-45. He goes to church every week and will alternate between sitting and standing. AR 45. His mother-in-law takes care of his two dogs. AR 45.
The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 178-247. Plaintiff has been evaluated by several doctors. He began treatment with his primary care physician Dr. Mohammad Arain, M.D., since 1996 and is currently a patient. AR 227-247. Treating neurologist, Madhav Suri, M.D., saw Plaintiff from January 9, 2007 to March 18, 2010. AR 178-207. On October 4, 2010, Dr. Robert Wagner, M.D., a state agency consultative physician, completed a comprehensive internal medicine evaluation. AR 208-212. State agency consultative physician Dr. Abbas Mehdi, M.D., performed a neurological consultative exam on May 9, 2011. AR 216-218. Finally, state agency physicians Drs. Richard Betcher, M.D. and L. Bobba, M.D., reviewed Plaintiff's medical records in November 2010 and May 2011 respectively. AR 213-214, 219-223. The relevant sections of the reports are outlined below.
(a) Dr. Mohammad Arain, Treating Physician
Plaintiff started seeing Dr. Arain on November 7, 1996 for his work physical exam, however, the record only contains medical records starting in 2006. AR 244. Plaintiff has had several appointments and no shows throughout the recent years. AR 229, 232, 233, 235, 236. In January 2007, Dr. Arain referred him to neurologist Madhav Suri, M.D. for Parkinson's symptoms. In mid-2010 Plaintiff was involved in two different car accidents which exacerbated his neck and shoulder pain. AR 232, 237. Dr. Arain prescribed Vicodin and physical therapy. AR 231-232. In September 2010, Plaintiff completed his physical therapy goals and reported a 95% reduction of symptoms since his first accident. AR 237. He was also able to complete all of his activities of daily living. AR 237. In December 2010, Dr. Arain released Plaintiff back to work. AR 229.
On March 22, 2011, Dr. Arain completed a hand written note stating that Plaintiff had increased symptoms of Parkinson's disease including: progressive tremors, progressive short term amnesia, unstable gait with repeated falls, and bilateral leg weakness. AR 227. He also reported that Plaintiff was incapable of any gainful work because his condition was deteriorating. He noted that Plaintiff lost his job, lost his insurance, and was having trouble getting medical care. AR 227. Treatment notes from February 25, 2012 indicate that Plaintiff had progressive Parkinsons with frequent falls, progressive involuntary tremors, stiffness, and weakness of legs. AR 239, 244. In the comments section of that note, Dr. Arain stated that Plaintiff's understanding of his progressive condition was causing him to become more depressed and helplessness. Dr. Arain opined that Plaintiff should "be given full retirement benefits and Social Security benefits" so he could concentrate on his health care. AR 245. Lastly, on April 23, 2013, almost one year after the hearing, Dr. Arain wrote another letter opining that Plaintiff's "condition has deteriorated and he is unable to engage in any gainful employment." AR 247. He reported that Plaintiff's Parkinson's had progressed to the extent that he could no longer hold onto anything and he had suffered repeated falls. AR 247. Dr. Arain's letter opined that Plaintiff is totally and permanently disabled for any kind of job. AR 247. No medical evidence was provided with the letter.
(b) Dr. Madhav Suri, Treating Neurologist
Dr. Suri evaluated Plaintiff on January 9, 2007 for intermittent shaking of his right arm. AR 205. He also noted that Plaintiff was having mood changes, difficulty focusing, and throbbing headaches. AR 205. Despite his complaints, Plaintiff's MRI was normal. EMG nerve conduction studies from May 2006 revealed bilateral median nerve entrapment of the wrists, mild on the left side and normal on the right lower extremity. AR 205. Dr. Suri reported that the possibility of Parkinson's disease could not be ruled out and he recommended continued observation. AR 206. Plaintiff was also advised to rest from work for the next few weeks. AR 206. At his May 14th appointment several months later, Dr. Suri noted that the tremor was more prominent and most suggestive of early Parkinson's disease. AR 203.
The next year on June 13, 2008, Dr. Suri noted that it was likely that Plaintiff had idiopathic Parkinson's disease. The doctor noted that Plaintiff had bilateral hand pain and recommended conservative treatment including using wrist splints. AR 191. One year later in July 2009, Dr. Suri's notes indicate that in addition to the right hand tremor, Plaintiff was also experiencing stiffness in the right leg and mild cogwheeling rigidity in the right hand. AR 187. At this point Dr. Suri prescribed an antiparkinsonian medication because Plaintiff stated that he wanted to return to work. AR 187. In October 2009, Plaintiff reported numbness in his right leg and pain in his right ankle. AR 184. On March 18, 2010, Plaintiff was having trouble getting his current medications at his ...