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Campbell v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 18, 2016

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




         Plaintiff Michelle Lynn Campbell (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 7, 8.) 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.


         On August 22, 2011, Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits. AR 156-57. Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled as of September 24, 2009, due to general anxiety disorder, treatment resistant major depressive disorder, panic with agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and menopause. AR 55, 175-85. Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 99-102, 114-18. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Tamia N. Gordon held a hearing on August 12, 2013, and issued an order denying benefits on August 23, 2013. AR 9-22, 29. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ’s decision, which the Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. AR 1-3, 7-8. This appeal followed.

         Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing on August 12, 2013, in Fresno, California. AR 29. Plaintiff appeared and testified. AR 30. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Robert Ishikawa. AR 29. Impartial Vocational Expert (“VE”) Judith Najarian also testified. AR 30.

         In response to questions from the claimant’s attorney, Plaintiff testified that she has an A.A. degree, but no special vocational training. AR 33. Plaintiff last worked in 2010 as an administrative assistant with the North Side Christian Church in the Women’s Ministry Department. AR 33. Plaintiff’s duties were typing, filing, photocopying, and answering the phones, but she had to quit because she because she could not maintain it. AR 33, 42. When asked what prevented her from working, Plaintiff testified she could not maintain her pace, equilibrium, or emotional responses and reactions enough to participate fully in what an employer would require from her. AR 33.

         When asked about treatment, Plaintiff reported receiving treatment at Kaiser, then the clinic at Sierra Vista, and finally Fresno County Mental Health. AR 33-34.

         When asked how her mental impairments affect her ability to work, Plaintiff reported she forgets what she is supposed to be doing, she can only do one thing at a time and she cries the whole time. AR 35.

         When asked about how she was previously able to work as an administrative assistant, Plaintiff reported that additional stresses in her life were so severe that she stopped being able to cope. AR 35. Plaintiff elaborated on her stress beginning with the fact that she raises three children by herself. AR 35. Plaintiff’s oldest son is a “criminal, ” and tried to recruit Plaintiff’s daughter, a freshman in high school, for a gang. He even stole Plaintiff’s car leaving her without transportation. She constantly had the police in her house, along with criminals she was trying to “run off.” AR 35-36. Boys from her daughter’s high school tried to force Plaintiff’s daughter into prostitution. Plaintiff also is responsible for taking care of her other son who has a mental disability. Finally, Plaintiff’s ex-husband retired and stopped providing assistance, causing Plaintiff to lose her house. AR 36.

         Plaintiff reported she isolates herself 16 hours out of 24 and has problems with concentration, attention, and memory. AR 36-37. Plaintiff also reported to suffer from roughly 2-6 panic attacks a month and from crying between 12-15 hours a day. AR 37-38. However, Plaintiff has never been hospitalized for any mental health reasons. AR 39. \ When questioned about a typical day, Plaintiff reported she plans her days to maintain minimal levels of stress. When Plaintiff is not checking on her children or parents, Plaintiff mostly reads or watches television. AR 40. Once a month, Plaintiff goes to church on Saturday nights. Plaintiff drives a couple times a week to run errands. AR 41.

         When asked about medication for her mental health, Plaintiff reported that her current medications are helping, and she does not have any noticeable side effects other than dry mouth. AR 42.

         Following Plaintiff’s testimony, the ALJ elicited testimony from the vocational expert (“VE”) Judith Najarian. AR 43. The VE testified that Plaintiff’s past work was classified as receptionist, with readily transferrable clerical skills to sedentary and light levels. The VE clarified that these skills would transfer readily to the job of general clerk. AR 44-46. The ALJ then asked the VE hypothetical questions, contemplating an individual of claimant’s age, education, and past work experience. AR 46-47. In the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to consider an individual who could perform work at all exertional levels, but was limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks. AR 46-47. The VE testified that this individual could not perform any of Plaintiff’s past work, but there were other unskilled jobs this individual could perform, such as mail clerk, price marker, and vacuum bottle assembler. AR 47-48.

         The ALJ then asked the VE to answer the same hypothetical but to add the limitation of work with no production rate or work pace. AR 48. The VE reported that such an individual still could not perform Plaintiff’s past work; however, such an individual could still work as a price marker, or mail clerk, but not a vacuum bottle assembler. AR 48-49. The VE further testified that another alternative without a production rate would be a stock checker, apparel person. AR 49.

         In the second hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to consider the same individual with the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels except due to severe mental impairments, must withdraw from the work station at unscheduled times, such that the absence causes work not to be completed in a timely manner. Furthermore, the individual could not sustain sufficient concentration, persistence, or pace for an eight-hour-a-day work schedule. AR 49. The VE testified that there would be no jobs for this individual. AR 50.

         Medical ...

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