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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 29, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Emily Suzzan Williams (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application 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.[2]

         Having considered the parties' briefs, along with the entire record in this case, the Court finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and is not based upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, the Court recommends the Commissioner's determination be REVERSED AND REMANDED for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff filed her application for supplemental security income on November 30, 2011. AR 171-78.[3] Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on February 8, 2008. AR 171. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 112-15, 117-21. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Serena Hong held a hearing on December 11, 2013, and issued an order denying benefits on February 28, 2014. AR 13-24, 29-55. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 5-7, 12. Plaintiff was granted an extension of time to file an action seeking court review. AR 1. Plaintiff filed the instant court action on November 24, 2015. (Doc. 1).

         Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing on December 11, 2013, in Fresno, California. AR 29-55. Plaintiff appeared and was represented by attorney Dennis Bromberg. Plaintiff's mother Lisa Claire Williams and impartial vocational expert Judith Najarian also appeared. AR 31, 48.

         In response to questions from the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that she was born in August 1992, and lived with her parents in an apartment complex, along with her parents' roommate and her 7-and-a-half-month old son. She does not have any source of income and does not receive any benefits. She does not have a driver's license because of her seizure disorder. Plaintiff also testified that the highest level of education she completed was the eleventh grade. She does not have a GED or any special vocational training. She has never tried to work. AR 33-34.

         When asked what prevented her from working, Plaintiff testified that she has a seizure disorder. She has applied for jobs, but been turned down because of her education or the risk of seizure on the job. She also has a learning disability-dyslexia-and had special education classes in eighth grade and in high school. AR 34-35.

         When asked about treatment, Plaintiff testified that she sees her neurologist every six months. She takes Keppra, and has not had a seizure since February of 2012. It was a grand mal seizure. She also has petit mal seizures, but could not recall the last time she had one. She does not have any side effects from her medication, and takes it as prescribed. AR 35-36, 37-38.

         When asked about a typical day, Plaintiff testified that she will take care of her son until he takes a nap. She will do laundry and vacuum. When her son wakes up, she takes care of him and plays with him. She does not have problems taking care of her son, but she has help all the time. AR 36-37. Plaintiff confirmed that before she had her own child, she used to help with her sister's kids, and had some pet rats. She also uses a computer for Facebook and for learning about her disability, and she likes to sew. AR 38-39.

         In response to questions from her attorney, Plaintiff testified that she did not remember going to the hospital on August 27, 2013, with a seizure. Plaintiff affirmed that she had problems with depression in the past, and was physically and sexually abused by her father as a child. She also witnessed her father abuse her little brother. Plaintiff last took medications for depression when she was 15 or 16. She stopped taking those medications because her neurologist told her she did not need them, and Prozac and Abilify should not be mixed with her seizure medication. AR 39-41.

         When asked about her seizures, Plaintiff testified that she can sometimes tell when they are coming. During grand mal seizures, she is usually unconscious. When she awakes, she is usually confused and it can take two to six hours to feel normal. After petit mal seizures, it will take her two to four hours to get back to normal. During petit mal seizures, she has been told that she stares and will sometimes go unconscious. While pregnant, she was switched to a new seizure medication, which was Keppra, and she has remained on it. AR 41-43.

         Plaintiff reported that she will have nightmares every three to six months about her abuse. Her appetite is fairly good and she has a lot of energy, but it is very hard for her to focus because she gets distracted and gazes into space. She cannot watch an hour long television show. AR 43-44.

         When asked about indications in her record about hurting herself, Plaintiff testified that she was a cutter, and last cut herself when she was 16-and-a-half. She also attempted suicide when she was 15-and-a-half, overdosing on her medications. She felt sick and sad about taking a kitchen knife to her ex-boyfriend's throat. She no longer has thoughts of suicide. AR 44-45.

         When asked about activities, Plaintiff testified that she will go out with friends if she can find a babysitter. At home, she will vacuum, take out her ...

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