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Toran v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 6, 2017

SYLVIA TORAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL (ECF NOS. 14, 16, 17)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Sylvia Toran (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her application for disability benefits and supplemental security income pursuant to the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone.[1]

         Plaintiff suffers from depression, carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”), cervicalgia, cervical disc displacement, spinal stenosis, cervicogenic headaches, degenerative disc disease in her cervical and lumbar spine, and bulging discs at ¶ 3-C4, C4-C5 and L4-L5. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Social Security appeal shall be granted in part.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability benefits on May 23, 2012, and an application for supplemental security income on May 31, 2012, alleging disability in both beginning on January 8, 2007.[2] (AR 147-48, 153-60.) Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on September 14, 2012, and denied upon reconsideration on May 8, 2013. (AR 64-69, 72-78.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Thomas Gaye (“the ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared for a hearing on May 1, 2014. (AR 38-55.) On June 12, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 22-32.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 9, 2015. (AR 5-9.) On February 22, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to reopen the prior decision and granted Plaintiff an extension of time to file a civil action. (AR 1-2.)

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the May 1, 2014 hearing and was represented by counsel. (AR 38-55.) Plaintiff's counsel moved to amend the alleged onset date to December 21, 2011. (AR 42.) Plaintiff was receiving unemployment, but around December 2011, it changed to state disability. (AR 43.)

         Plaintiff was 54 years old at the time of the hearing. (AR 44.) Plaintiff was wearing a wrist support on her right wrist for her CTS. (AR 44.) She struggles with combing her hair. (AR 44.) She says that she alternates using hands, so that when one “starts giving out on [her], [she] start[s] using [the other one].” (AR 44.)

         Plaintiff testified that she is always in pain, whether it is her neck, her lower back, or a combination. (AR 48.) She cannot work because of headaches that she gets from the pain and being tired. (AR 50.) She gets headaches twice a day that last for three to four hours. (AR 50.)

         Plaintiff's knee gave out one time a year prior to the hearing when she was leaving her house and about to take a step which caused her to fall backwards and hit her head. (AR 45.) At the time of her hearing, Plaintiffs knee had sharp pains throughout the day, would get swollen, and was very painful at night. (AR 45.) When she was asked about treatment for her knee, Plaintiff indicated that Dr. Tawnya Dozier, her doctor for 5 years, is focusing on her stress and depression first and then will “get back to concentrating on the neck area and the lower back.” (AR 45-46.) Plaintiff then answered that she is not receiving any treatment for her knee. (AR 46.)

         She is able to look downward with her neck without any problems for about 10 minutes. (AR 48.) She has to rotate sitting, standing, and laying down every day. (AR 48.) She can sit for 20 minutes without any problems, but then her back and neck start to hurt and the right side of her thigh starts to burn, so she has to lean to the left or get up and walk for a bit. (AR 50.) She can stand for 15 minutes without any problems, but then she gets sharp pains in her right heel and in her lower back. (AR 52-53.)

         It is hard for her to lift a gallon of milk. (AR 52.) She has to lift it with two hands and put one hand underneath because she has been dropping things. (AR 52.)

         She does not drive because she cannot turn her neck and her neck hurts. (AR 48-49.) During the day, she alternates sitting, reading, standing, and laying down. (AR 50.) She can read without any problems for about 10 minutes. (AR 50.)

         Dr. Ahmed in Roseville told her that she needs nerve fusion surgery. (AR 49.) Since her doctor recommended fusion at ¶ 5-C6 if she was to fail conservative care, she had therapy and shots. (AR 49.) Physical therapy did not help. (AR 49-50.) The doctors have given her medication for the pain, which somewhat helps. (AR 51.)[3]

         B. ALJ Findings

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

• Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through September 30, 2014;
• Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 21, 2011, the alleged onset date;
• Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine and CTS;
• Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments;
• Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except only occasionally use hands for gross manipulation;
• Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work;
• Plaintiff was born on November 4, 1959, and was 52 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the ...

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