United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER AFFIRMING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND
ORDERING JUDGMENT FOR COMMISSIONER
Barbara A. McAuliffe UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Leticia Contreras (“Plaintiff”), appearing
pro se, seeks judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
under 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 Magistrate Judge
Barbara A. McAuliffe. Having considered the moving papers and
the Court's file, 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.
AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
Overview of the Administrative Proceedings
Plaintiff's second claim for Social Security benefits.
Plaintiff filed prior applications for DIB and SSI payments,
which were denied on October 13, 2011. AR 148, 166, 385-94.
Plaintiff did not appeal the denial. AR 148, 166. On January
31, 2012, Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant
applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning
January 9, 2012, due to injuries to her neck, back, knee, and
right foot, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), anxiety, headaches, early signs of carpal tunnel, and
nerve damage. AR 395-406, 455. Plaintiff's claims were
denied initially on May 29, 2012 (AR 147-201), and upon
reconsideration on January 17, 2013. AR 216-70. After an
administrative hearing at which Plaintiff was represented by
an attorney, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
issued a decision on February 28, 2014 finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled. AR 90-102. Plaintiff requested a review of
the ALJ's decision, submitting new evidence, and the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request. AR 1-86. This
Plaintiff's Background and Testimony
hearing was held on January 22, 2014 in Fresno, CA. AR 112.
Plaintiff was represented by attorney Gina Fazio. AR 112. A
vocational expert, Cheryl Chandler (the “VE”),
also provided testimony. AR 112.
outset of the hearing, the ALJ questioned Plaintiff at length
about a surveillance video taken of Plaintiff before her
disability onset date. AR 118-123. The ALJ explained to
Plaintiff that as a part of a workers' compensation
investigation, she was secretly recorded participating in a
yard sale with her family. AR 119. In the video, Plaintiff
was seen bending, stooping and lifting items including a
small child weighing approximately 18 pounds. AR 120.
Plaintiff also appeared to be moving her neck with no
difficulty. AR 121. Plaintiff explained that at the time the
video was taken she was taking several prescription
medications and attending physical therapy which alleviated
her back and neck pain. AR 121-122.
was born on June 23, 1969 making her 42 years old at the time
of the hearing. AR 123. She is approximately five feet and
eight inches tall and weighs 195 pounds. AR 123. Plaintiff
has a high school education, and completed three and half
years of college. AR 123. She is single and lives in a house
with her 20-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. AR 124.
Plaintiff has a driver's license and generally drives
about once a week. AR 124.
asked about her impairments, Plaintiff testified that her
most severe pain is caused by headaches, neck pain and back
pain, but she also “deals with knee pain.” AR
125. Pain medication generally helps with her neck and back
pain. AR 126. Plaintiff also claims she has carpal tunnel
syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and that she
suffers from daily headaches that last from 1-2 hours a day.
AR 126. Plaintiff testified that her headaches and
post-traumatic stress disorder began after being involved in
an accident in 2009. AR 134, 136. Although not explained in
detail during the administrative hearing, Plaintiff
frequently referenced a pedestrian vs. motor vehicle accident
that occurred on October 19, 2009. AR 632. In the accident,
Plaintiff was clipped on the side of her body by a car going
5-10 mph in the parking lot of a Fresno County office
building. AR 632. Plaintiff sprained her ankle; she was given
a brace, prescribed pain medication and discharged on the
same day. AR 631. Overall, based on her various impairments,
Plaintiff testified she can lift 10-15 pounds, stand and walk
for 15 minutes before needing a break, and sit comfortably
for about 30 minutes. AR 127-128.
asked about her daily activities, Plaintiff testified she
attends to her own personal needs. AR 131. She cooks about
six to eight times a week, washes dishes and her own
clothing. AR 131, 136. She watches television approximately
two hours a day; and attends counseling about 2-3 times a
month. AR 132-135.
the ALJ heard testimony from a vocational expert who
testified that based on the limitations adopted by the ALJ,
Plaintiff could perform work as it exists in the national
economy. AR 138-146.
entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 536-1485.
The medical evidence will be referenced below as necessary to
this Court's decision.
the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 9,
2012, her alleged onset date. AR 92. Second, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: status post two fusions of the cervical spine,
multi-level degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
urinary incontinence, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
status post right hand release surgery, adjustment disorder,
major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and
acute stress reaction vs. posttraumatic stress disorder. AR
82. Third, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have a
listed impairment or combination of impairments. AR 93-94.
carefully reviewing the entire record, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), lifting and carrying 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and siting, standing,
and walking 6 hours in an 8-hour day. AR 94-101. The ALJ also
found Plaintiff could frequently handle, finger, and feel
bilaterally as well as balance, stoop, kneel and climb ramps
or stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. AR
94. Plaintiff can occasionally crouch, and reach overhead
with the dominant right upper extremity. She is limited
however to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. AR 94. At
the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff could not perform
any of her past relevant work. AR 101. However, at the fifth
step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform a
significant number of jobs in the national economy. AR
101-102. Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 102.
order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that
he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity
due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c
(a)(3)(A). A claimant must show that he or she has a physical
or mental impairment of such severity that he or she is not
only unable to do his or her previous work, but cannot,
considering his or her age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy. Quang Van Han v.
Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden
is on the claimant to establish disability. Terry v.
Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).
to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), a Court may set aside a denial
of benefits only if it is not supported by substantial
evidence or if it is based on legal error. Robbins v.
Social Security Administration, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th
Cir. 2006) (citing Flaten v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995)).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted). It is ...