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Hayes v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 7, 2016

TINA MESHELL HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Tina Meshell Hayes ("Plaintiff") seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (Administrative Record ("AR") 10). In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of October 24, 2010. (Id.). The Agency denied Plaintiff's applications on November 8, 2012. (AR 67, 71) . On January 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") . (AR 76) . On July 25, 2013, Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing held before ALJ David J. Agatstein. (AR 23) . Vocational expert Ms. Kristan V. Sagliocco and medical experts Glenn E. Griffin, PH.D., and Ronald Kendrick, M.D., also testified at the hearing. (AR 10) . On September 9, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 9) .

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Officer denied on April 10, 2015. (AR 1-4) . Plaintiff filed this action on June 10, 2015. (Dkt. No. 1).

         III.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on August 20, 1964 and was forty-eight (48) years old at the time of the 2013 hearing. (AR 31) . Plaintiff was forty-six (46) years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. (AR 43). Plaintiff testified that she dropped out of high school in tenth grade and later obtained a G.E.D. (AR 31, 148). Plaintiff speaks and understands English. (AR 25). Plaintiff previously worked as a customer service representative at a grocery store and as a security guard. (AR 148). Plaintiff alleges that she suffers from pain in her neck, back, left leg, and right wrist. (AR 33, 43, 56) . Plaintiff also alleges that she suffers from depression, but that her depression does not interfere with her ability to work. (AR 33).

         A. Medical Records

         From October 25, 2010 to July 11, 2013, Plaintiff underwent a series of physical and psychiatric evaluations. (AR 268, 327) . Plaintiff was diagnosed with pain stemming from her neck, back, and right wrist. (AR 178-246, 296-300, 326-334).

         1. Physical Evaluations And Treatments

         Specifically, between October 25, 2010 to February 29, 2012, Plaintiff visited Advanced Care Specialists for the evaluation and treatment of her back in connection with a worker's compensation claim. (AR 15, 251, 268). On March 24, 2011, physician Dr. Randy S. Higashi, D.C., examined Plaintiff.[1] (AR 178). On April 16, 2011, Dr. Amjad Safvi, M.D., conducted an MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine and found mild degenerative disc disease. (AR 205-06) .

         On April 26, 2011, physician Dr. Ronald M. Schilling, M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with myofascial "low back pain[, which] radiat[ed] to both legs with numbness and tingling to both feet." (AR 245-46). On November 8, 2011, Dr. Higashi prescribed medications for Plaintiff, including "Vicodin, Naproxen, Gabapentin and Prilosec[.]" (AR 191). On January 10, 2012, Dr. Edward Opoku, D.O., confirmed Dr. Higashi's diagnosis of radiculopathy and continued Plaintiff's treatment. (AR 191-92) . On February 29, 2012, Dr. Higashi treated Plaintiff with LSO-Flexible[2] to support her back. (AR 251).

         From October 13, 2012 to July 11, 2013, Plaintiff visited Medpro Services, Inc., UC Family Medicine Center, and Beverly Tower Wilshire for the evaluation and treatment of her wrist and neck. (AR 296, 310-34). Specifically, on October 13, 2012, Plaintiff went to Medpro Services, Inc., where Dr. Curtis Kephart, M.D., diagnosed Plaintiff with "mild wrist arthritis secondary to a non-displaced fracture [, and] cervical spondylosis with myofascial neck pain[.]" (AR 296-300). Dr. Kephart concluded that Plaintiff "could lift and carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently [, ] . . . push and pull frequently [, ] . . . sit, walk and stand for six hours out of an eight-hour day [ ] " without an assistive device. (AR 300) . Dr. Kephart also concluded that "[t]here were no manipulative or postural limitations[]" and that "the right hand can do fine and gross manipulations frequently[.]" (Id.) . Plaintiff "was treated with pain management, acupuncture and physical therapy." (AR 190).

         On January 10, 2013, Plaintiff went to the U.C. Family Medical Center where Dr. Uche Chukwudi, M.D., x-rayed Plaintiff's right wrist and found a fracture of the distal navicular bone. (AR 311-12). In addition, Dr. Chukwudi found Plaintiff's cholesterol level to be out of range and poorly controlled. (AR 316-17). From March 22, 2013 to July 11, 2013, Plaintiff sought treatment at Beverly Tower Wilshire for her wrist and back. (AR 326-34). From March 22, 2013 to May 10, 2013, Dr. Siamak Dardashti, M.D., took an MRI of Plaintiff's back and found "broad based disc osteophyte[3], moderate left lateral recess and foraminal narrowing." (AR 329-31). On July 11, 2013, Dr. Tinoosh Zand, M.D., took an MRI of Plaintiff's right wrist and found "a chronic non[-]union[4] fracture of the distal pole of the scaphoid without evidence for osteonecrosis.[5]" (AR 326-27) . Dr. Zand also found "[p]robable chronic injury to the radial collateral ligament with abnormal signal at the radial styloid[.]" (Id.).

         2. Psychiatric Evaluation

         On October 10, 2012, Plaintiff visited Medpro Services, Inc., where Dr. Nina Kapitanski, M.D., conducted a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed Plaintiff with "a depressive disorder secondary to general medical condition." (AR 269-73) . Dr. Kapitanski noted that Plaintiff "was well kept, well nourished and in no apparent distress." (AR 271) . Plaintiff acknowledged to Dr. Kapitanski that she had a prior use of "street drugs" but stopped such usage in 1999. (AR 270). Dr. Kapitanski also found that Plaintiff had "no difficulty maintaining composure and even temperament." (Id.). Dr. Kapitanski then noted that Plaintiff "exhibited no evidence of auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, or illusions []" and that Plaintiff "denied current suicidal or homicidal ideations, plan, or intent." (AR 269). Dr. Kapitanski reported that Plaintiff worked as a security guard for six years. (AR 270).

         In addition, Dr. Kapitanski "opined that [Plaintiff] had no past psychiatric history." (AR 272) . Dr. Kapitanski also noted that "if [Plaintiff] received [psychiatric] treatment, her symptoms would significantly improve[.]" (Id.). Dr. Kapitanski continued that Plaintiff "had no difficulties in maintaining social functioning[]" and had "mild difficulties focusing and maintaining attention[] . . . concentration, persistence, and pace." (Id.). According to Dr. Kapitanski, Plaintiff "would have no difficulties performing work activities on a consistent basis without special or additional supervision[]" and "no limitations accepting instructions from supervisors and interacting with coworkers and with the public." (Id.). Furthermore, Dr. Kapitanski found that Plaintiff "was intellectually and psychologically capable of performing activities of daily living[]." (Id.). Dr. Kapitanski concluded that Plaintiff "would have no limitations performing simple and repetitive tasks and mild limitations performing detailed and complex tasks." (Id.). Dr. Kapitanski also concluded that Plaintiff "would have mild difficulties handling the usual stresses, changes and demands of gainful employment." (Id.).

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         On July 25, 2013, Plaintiff testified about her background, including her education level, work history, and medical history. (AR 31-34) . Plaintiff stated that she "dropped out [of high school] in 10th grade and [] went back to school in 2000 and got [her] high school diploma." (AR 31). Plaintiff stated that she was currently unemployed and that in the fifteen years before the date of her testimony, she was employed as a security guard and a grocery store employee. (AR 31-32). Plaintiff also testified that her previous employment ended because of "a fall down[, ]" which precipitated pain in her neck and eventually in her back and right wrist. (AR 32-33) .

         Furthermore, Plaintiff stated that she did not have a mental impairment that would interfere with her ability to work. (AR 33) . Plaintiff concluded by explaining that her right wrist became problematic after "couple of fall downs" notwithstanding an untreated non-union fracture that occurred twenty years ago. (AR 33-34) .

         IV. THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial ...


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