United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
Randall Gene Powers ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant")
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") pursuant to Title II of the Social Security
Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the
parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral
argument to the Honorable Erica P. Grosjean, United States
Magistrate Judge. Upon a review of the administrative
record, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is not free of
clear legal error and supported by substantial evidence. The
case is thus remanded to the agency for further proceedings.
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed an application for DIB in December 2010, alleging a
disability onset date of August 14, 2010. His application was
denied initially in April 2011 and on reconsideration in
September 2011. AR 115; 121. A hearing was conducted before
Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Hatfield ("ALJ")
on September 26, 2012 and a second hearing occurred on June
26, 2013. AR 36-57; 58-89. On July 11, 2013, the ALJ issued a
decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 17-30.
Plaintiff filed an appeal of the decision with the Appeals
Council. AR 12-16. The Appeals Council denied his appeal,
rendering the order the final decision of the Commissioner.
now challenges that decision, arguing that the ALJ failed to
articulate clear and convincing reasons for rejecting
Plaintiff's testimony. (Doc. 14, pgs. 8-16). Plaintiff
argues that the Court should reverse and award benefits to
Plaintiff. In the alternative, Plaintiff contends, the case
should be remanded for further administrative proceedings. In
opposition, Defendant argues that the ALJ provided valid
reasons for finding Plaintiff not entirely credible, which
were supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 22, pgs. 6-15).
hearings were held in Long Beach, California. Plaintiff
appeared via video from Palmdale and was represented by his
attorney Brian Reed at both hearings. AR 36; 58. Plaintiff
and a vocational expert, Ronald Hatakeyama, testified at the
first hearing. AR 38-57. Plaintiff and a vocational expert,
Howard Goldsbarb, testified at the second hearing. AR 38.
Plaintiff was 49 years old at the time of the first hearing
and 50 years old at the time of the second hearing. AR 41;
62. He lives with his girlfriend and 11-year-old daughter. AR
64. He has a high school diploma. AR 63. Plaintiff last
worked in June 2010 at Harbor Freight Tools as a general
manager. AR 64-65.
September 2012 hearing, Plaintiff testified that he did not
have health care. His primary source for prescriptions was
TZI Buddhist Monastery, a health care provider that came to
his town every quarter. AR 67. He had recently found a doctor
at the Antelope Valley Clinic he planned to begin seeing. AR
67. Plaintiff testified that arthritis flare-ups make it
impossible to maintain employment as he would be unable to
work 3-4 days at a time 2-3 times per month. AR 68-69. He
testified of arthritis primarily in his knees, ankles, and
wrists, which results in periodic flare-ups that make it
difficult to stand and walk. AR 67-68. When the swelling gets
bad, he takes Prednisone and uses crutches until the swelling
goes down. AR 67-68. Plaintiff was initially diagnosed with
arthritis in 2006 in his upper extremities. AR 71; 73. It is
difficult for him to close his hands into a fist and "it
feels like [a] balloon pushing back out." AR 73. He
reports that his hands are swollen 60-80% of the time, which
makes it difficult to pick things up and exert pressure. AR
73-74. He suffers pain and swelling in his knee about 80% of
the time with flare-ups 2-3 times per month. AR 74-75.
Plaintiff reports that his ankles are swollen 90% of the
time, which causes pain when he walks. AR 75. He also has
pain in his hip. AR 75-76. He cannot sit for more than one
hour due to numbness in his leg. AR 79. He takes nitrates due
to tightness in his chest. AR 68. He has shortness of breath
when walking 5-20 paces, which he attributes in part to his
weight, a circulatory problem, and a possible back problem.
can bathe himself without assistance, get dressed, prepare
simple meals, and do simple chores such as washing dishes,
but these tasks take much longer than they used to and
require periodic rest. AR 69-70; 77. He can go grocery
shopping using an electric cart, but it takes him about four
hours and he has to lie down afterward. AR 69-70. He wakes up
every two hours at night to use the restroom and increase
circulation in his legs. AR 77-78. He takes about an hour
long nap in the afternoon. AR 78.
2012, Plaintiff suffered a mild heart attack. AR 72. His
fatigue has worsened since the heart attack. AR 76. Plaintiff
takes medication to treat high blood pressure and
cholesterol. AR 72-73. He still has hypertension, despite
taking medication. AR 72. He has taken Methotrexate to treat
his arthritis since 2006, which weakens his immune system and
requires that he be screened for kidney and liver damage
every two months. AR 77. Plaintiff testified he is unable to
perform his past work because he cannot walk, stand, or sit
six hours out of an eight-hour day. AR 78.
supplemental hearing in June 2013, Plaintiff testified he had
stopped driving more than about a mile as he is unable to put
his foot down hard on the pedal. AR 42. He reported his
flare-ups have increased to four or five times a month
causing him to use his crutches more. AR 44. He was recently
approved for Medi-Cal and has been treated more frequently,
particularly at the emergency room and Antelope Valley
Hospital. AR 41; 44. He reports going to the emergency room
about twice a month due to swelling in his ankles, knees,
both wrists, and fingers that makes it impossible to
function, walk, or sleep. AR 45-46. He reported his pain
being 10 out of 10, which makes it difficult to concentrate,
walk, and grip things with his hands. AR 46-48. He was
treated with pain medication, which makes him sleepy, and
steroids. AR 45-46.
entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. However,
only evidence that relates to the issues raised in this
appeal is summarized below.
has a history of rheumatoid arthritis. See e.g., AR
432. He was able to continue working while on Methotrexate.
AR 432. However, Plaintiff could no longer afford
Methotrexate to treat the arthritis after he lost his job. AR
432. Plaintiff takes prednisone when his arthritis flares up.
Consultative Examiner, Dean Chiang, M.D.
had a comprehensive internal medicine evaluation by Dr.
Chiang on April 9, 2011. AR 330-334. Dr. Chiang observed
Plaintiff to be a well-developed, well-nourished individual
who appears to be muscular. AR 331. Plaintiff walked on his
own volition with a normal gait, was able to sit comfortably,
take his shoes on and off, retie his shoelaces, and get on
and off the examination table by himself. AR 331. Examination
of his joints revealed no signs of active synovitis. AR 331.
Chiang diagnosed Plaintiff as having rheumatoid arthritis and
chronic back pain with intermittent sciatica. AR 333. Dr.
Chiang opined that Plaintiff would be able to stand and walk
for up to four hours in an eight-hour day with no sitting
limitations as long as appropriate breaks were given. AR 333.
He further opined Plaintiff can lift and carry without
restrictions. However, when Plaintiff's pain flares, he
would be limited to lifting and carrying 10 pounds and may
need an assistive device for ambulating. AR 333-334. He
limited Plaintiff to occasional postural activities and
opined he may have some manipulative limitations. AR 334.
Consultative Examiner, Jay Dhiman,
had a complete internal medicine evaluation by Dr. Dhiman on
January 16, 2013. AR 495-501. Plaintiff was well-developed,
well-nourished, overweight, and did not seem to be in any
pain. His station and gait were normal. AR 497. He is right
hand dominant with 20/20/20 grip strength in his right hand
and 15/15/15 in his left. AR 497. His neck was supple without
adenopathy or jugular venous distention. The range of motion
of the neck on flexion was 0-45 degrees, extension 0-30
degrees, lateral flexion 0-30 degrees, and lateral rotation
0-60 degrees. AR 498. His chest was not tender, his breath
sounds were symmetric, and he had regular heart rate and
rhythm. AR 498. There was no tenderness to palpation in the
midline or paraspinal areas, negative straight leg raising at
90 degrees, and full range of motion of the back within
normal limits. AR 498. He had mild generalized tenderness of
the wrists without any swelling. AR 499. He had tenderness of
the fingers with some swelling. AR 499. He had normal range
of motion in his hands. AR 499. His range of motion in hips
and knees was grossly normal bilaterally. AR 499. There was
no swelling in his knees. AR 500. His knees were without
effusion, had tenderness in the lateral and medial joint
lines without any crepitation, and no mediolateral or
anteroposterior instability. AR 499. His range of motion ...