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Ackermann v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

August 2, 2016

BRENDA D. ACKERMANN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Brenda D. Ackermann (“Plaintiff”) brings this action seeking to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (hereinafter the “Commissioner” or the “Agency”) denying her application for disability benefits. 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

         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on December 13, 2010. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 64, 88). Plaintiff’s alleged disability began on November 29, 2010. (AR 64). Plaintiff’s application was initially denied on July 27, 2011 and denied on reconsideration on May 18, 2012. (AR 64-75, 77-86). On July 12, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (AR 105-07). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert A. Evans on October 21, 2013 (“the ALJ Hearing”). (AR 52). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 52-63). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 7, 2014, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 38-51). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision on January 7, 2014, which the Appeals Council denied on May 13, 2014. (AR 1-10). Plaintiff filed this action on July 7, 2015. (Docket Number (“Dkt. No.”) 1).

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on August 31, 1962. (AR 64). Plaintiff is a high school graduate. (AR 199). Prior to her alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff worked as an in-home care service provider from 2004 to 2006. (AR 55, 205). Plaintiff testified that she suffers from back pain due to scoliosis and the insertion of a metal rod into her back when she was a child. (AR 57-58). Plaintiff testified that she previously had breathing problems due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”), but that the disease was not affecting her breathing anymore. (AR 60).

         A. Medical History

         1. Dianne L. DeFreece, Psy.D.

         On February 19, 2007, Dianne L. DeFreece, a licensed clinical psychologist, examined Plaintiff. (AR 265). Notes from the examination revealed that Plaintiff had a fifteen-year history of methamphetamine abuse including an arrest in 2002 for drug possession. (AR 265). Dr. DeFreece recommended treatment for depression and encouraged Plaintiff to attend meetings at a substance abuse program. (AR 265).

         2. Homayoun Saeid, M.D.

         On July 28, 2008, Dr. Saeid performed a “Complete Internal Medicine Evaluation” of Plaintiff. (AR 266-70). The summary report of the evaluation revealed that although Plaintiff smoked a pack of cigarettes per day, her “breath sounds are symmetric” with no unusual findings. (AR 266). Plaintiff informed Dr. Saied that she was diagnosed with hypertension about 2006 and that she was abusing methamphetamine at that time. Plaintiff further informed Dr. Saeid that she quit using methamphetamine in 2007.[1] Dr. Saeid concluded that Plaintiff could walk six hours and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR 270).

         3. Shahid Kahn, M.D.

         On March 31, 2010, Dr. Kahn examined Plaintiff, who complained of hypertension and depression. (AR 280). Dr. Kahn noted that Plaintiff had been a smoker for twenty-seven years, but that her lungs sounded “clear to auscultation.”[2] (AR 281). Plaintiff noted a pain level of “zero.” (AR 284). On February 2, 2011, Dr. Kahn again examined Plaintiff and diagnosed her with COPD. (AR 340-41). On April 3, 2012, Dr. Kahn’s again examined Plaintiff and noted her lungs as “clear to auscultation bilaterally” with ongoing COPD. (AR 431-32). On November 14, 2012, Dr. Kahn’s evaluation of Plaintiff yielded the same results as to her lung health and continuing COPD. (AR 489-91). The same results were also noted on September 11, 2013. (AR 509-10).

         4. Doddanna Krishna, M.D.

         On November 29, 2010, Plaintiff was admitted to Antelope Valley Hospital with increasing cough, shortness of breath and swelling. (AR 294-300). Dr. Krishna noted in her “final diagnoses” the following conditions: [c]ongestive heart failure; [c]ardiomyopathy; [d]rug abuse; [p]neumonia; [b]ilateral small pleural effusions; [c]hronic smoker; [c]hronic obstructive pulmonary disease with exacerbation; [h]ypertension; and [t]roponin elevation. (AR 300). Plaintiff was discharged on December 3, 2010 as “much improved” with medications. (AR 300). Dr. Krishna then referred Plaintiff for x-ray diagnostics. (AR 318-24). An x-ray dated November 29, 2010 of Plaintiff’s chest revealed “pulmonary vascular congestion,” (AR 319), but x-rays two, three and four days later showed “[n]ormal pulmonary vascularity.” (AR 321-23).

         5. Dean Chiang, M.D.

         On April 9, 2011, Dr. Chiang gave Plaintiff a comprehensive internal medical evaluation. (AR 330-33). Plaintiff’s “chief complaint[]” was congestive heart failure. Plaintiff complained of daily shortness of breath, for which she used an inhaler. (AR 330). Dr. Chiang noted that Plaintiff’s lungs were, “[s]ymmetric with normal excursions . . . [c]lear to auscultation throughout.” (AR 332). Dr. Chiang opined that Plaintiff’s shortness of breath was likely due to COPD. (AR 333). Dr. Chiang also ...


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