United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tracy Arlene Owen (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
and for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI 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.
carefully considered the parties' briefs as well as the
entire record in this case, 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
AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed her applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on December 27, 2011. AR 190-93,
194-201. Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled
on September 14, 2010. AR 194. Plaintiff's applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 112-15,
122-27. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Susanne
Lewald held a hearing on April 17, 2014, and issued an order
denying benefits on May 20, 2014. AR 9-23, 29-63. 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. This appeal
held a hearing on April 17, 2014, in San Francisco,
California. AR 29-63. Plaintiff appeared and testified. She
was represented by Diana P. Wade. AR 33. Medical Expert Dr.
Lynne Jahnke and Vocational Expert Susan L. Creighton-Clavel
also appeared. AR 31.
initial matter, Dr. Jahnke, the medical expert
(“ME”), testified that based on the review of the
medical records, Plaintiff had medically-determinable
impairments of chronic neck pain, bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome, occasional back pain and obesity. AR 40. Dr. Jahnke
opined that none of these conditions, either singly or in
combination, met or medically-equaled any of the relevant
listings. AR 40-41. When asked about functional limitations,
Dr. Jahnke testified that Plaintiff could lift up to ten
pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently based on
carpal tunnel syndrome. She had no restrictions to sit, stand
or walk, but should never climb ladders or scaffolds. She
frequently could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. She
could reach overhead with both hands occasionally. Her
handling, fingering and feeling with the right hand would be
limited to occasional and left hand to frequent. She should
never be at unprotected heights and should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, heat and vibrations. AR 41-42. Dr.
Jahnke testified that Plaintiff's condition had been at
that severity since her alleged onset date in September 2010.
AR 42. In response to questions from Plaintiff's
representative, Dr. Jahnke further testified that Plaintiff
should limit flipping her head back and forth to occasional,
but should have no problem sitting and looking down while
working. AR 42-43.
Dr. Jahnke's testimony, Plaintiff responded to questions
from her representative. With regard to problems with her
hands, Plaintiff testified that she occasionally gets a sharp
pain in her hands when she grasps at something, such as
turning a doorknob or opening a bottle of water. She also
unexpectedly drops things and has trouble signing her name or
writing. Her hands go numb multiple times during the day, and
her hands are numb when she wakes up in the morning. AR 44.
She has not seen a doctor for surgery, but is waiting for
Workman's Comp to determine if they are going to include
it. At least one doctor has mentioned wearing braces on her
wrists, but no one has given her a brace. AR 44-45.
connection with her neck pain, Plaintiff testified that
sitting upright pulls on her neck muscles. She cannot turn
her head right and left normally. She occasionally has
headaches. She also has pain down into her shoulder muscles
by her shoulder blades. Her worst pain is 10 out of 10 about
once month, depending on her activity level. To take the
pressure off of her shoulders and neck muscles, she will have
to lean back on a high-back chair and put pillows under her
head. Her doctor has not talked to her about wearing a neck
brace. AR 45-47.
regard to her low back pain, Plaintiff testified that she had
a flare-up last April. She could not do anything for two
weeks, and the pain slowly diminished over a month's
period of time. AR 47.
asked about medications, Plaintiff testified that she takes
Norco for severe pain. Although it relieves about 98% of her
pain, it makes her feel very drowsy. When she does not take
Norco, she takes ibuprofen or naproxen, which does not really
help. AR 47-48.
asked about work, Plaintiff did not think she could work
because being on a regular schedule causes stress and going
out causes strain on her neck muscles. Her main issues are
her neck, hands and lower back. She also had problems with
her feet, but was unable to have further treatment because
she lacked medical benefits. AR 48-50.
questioning by her representative, Plaintiff responded to
questions from the ALJ regarding her past work. Plaintiff
also testified regarding her impairments, indicating that her
arm pain and hands had worsened since April 2013. Plaintiff
reported taking Flexeril and amyltriptiline every night and
Norco occasionally. AR 52-55.
questioning Plaintiff, the ALJ elicited testimony from the
vocational expert (“VE”), Susan Creighton-Clavel.
The VE categorized Plaintiff's past work as
custodian/janitor and merchandise displayer. AR 55-58. The
ALJ then asked the VE hypothetical questions. In the first
hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to consider an individual
of Plaintiff's age, education and experience who could
lift and/or carry five pounds frequently, ten pounds
occasionally, had no restrictions with respect to sitting,
standing and walking, who should not work from ladders, ropes
or scaffolds, could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl
frequently, could reach overhead with bilateral extremities
occasionally, could handle, finger and feel with the right
upper extremity occasionally and frequently with the left,
could push and pull restricted to the weight amounts of five
pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally, could ...