United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER AFFIRMING THE AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS
S. Austin UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Petra Scott (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner” or “Defendant”)
denying her application for Supplemental Security Insurance
(“SSI”) benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. (Docs. 1 and 14). The Commissioner filed
a Motion for Summary Judgment in opposition. (Doc. 18).
Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. 19). The matter is currently
before the Court on the parties' briefs which were
submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S.
Austin, United States Magistrate Judge. After reviewing
the administrative record and the pleadings, the Court finds
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's appeal is denied and the
Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted. (Doc. 18).
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed application for SSI on September 20, 2013, alleging a
disability beginning May 30, 2013. AR 28; 180. Her
application was denied initially on January 28, 2014 and on
reconsideration on April 18, 2014. AR 28; 114-119; 123-127.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). AR 130-132. ALJ Katherine Loo
conducted a hearing on April 22, 2015 (AR47-88), and
published an unfavorable decision on June 30, 2015. AR 28-39.
Plaintiff filed an appeal and the Appeals Council denied the
request for review, rendering the order the final decision of
the Commissioner. AR 1-3.
ISSUES FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
challenges the ALJ's credibility determination on the
basis that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing
reasons to reject her testimony. (Doc. 14, pgs. 2-9; Doc. 19,
pgs. 2-5). She argues that the case should be remanded for a
calculation of benefits, or in the alternative, that the case
be remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. 14, pg. 9; Doc.
19, pg. 5). The Commissioner contends that the ALJ gave
sufficient reasons to find Plaintiff's testimony less
than fully credible and that the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. (Doc. 18, pgs. 7-12).
completed a function report dated October 16, 2013. AR 212.
She indicated that she is in constant pain and takes pain
medication which makes her sleepy and constipated. AR 212;
219. She spends each day doing exercises to stretch her back,
watching television, feeding her dogs, and sleeping. AR 213.
She cares for her dogs by feeding them, giving them water,
and opening the back door for them. AR 213. She also prepares
her own meals which are usually cold cereal or sandwiches. AR
214. She vacuums for three minutes weekly and cleans the
toilet and sinks for two minutes weekly. AR 214. Plaintiff
reported that she does not do yard work because they had a
gardener. AR 215. However, she goes grocery shopping once a
week, loves reading, sews as a hobby, and goes out about
twice a week. AR 215-217. Plaintiff reported that she spends
time with others on the phone and that her sister visits
occasionally, but she only goes out about twice a week. AR
215-216. She follows written and spoken instructions well and
gets along well with authority figures. AR 217-218. She can
deal with stress and is able to handle changes in routine. AR
218. She is only able to stand for a short period of time and
can walk around the block. AR 219. She has difficulty
completing tasks because she gets tired and things are too
heavy. AR 219.
also testified before the ALJ at a hearing on April 22, 2015.
AR 45-88. She noted she has an associate's degree in
health care. AR 51. She last worked in 2004 as an
underwriting service assistant but left that position because
she was not able to sit for long periods of time. AR 53. She
currently is unable to work because of her back pain and
because her medication makes her lethargic. AR 54. In the
past, Plaintiff received six or eight epidural shots to
relieve the pain but they were only effective for about a day
or so, so she has not gotten one recently. AR 55. On an
average day Plaintiff's pain is an eight on a ten point
scale. The pain starts in her back and radiates down her
right leg. When the pain moves into her leg (which occurs
about once a month), her right foot goes numb. AR 70-71. She
also suffers from migraine headaches about once a month which
she treats with medication. AR 72.
has been seeing Dr. Gordon, her primary care doctor, every
two weeks for a couple of years and receives shots in her hip
to relieve her back pain. AR 56-57. Surgery has been
recommended for her back but she has not received the
necessary authorization from her insurance company so she has
not had the surgery. AR 56. She is currently taking M.S.
Contin and Norco four times a day and Motrin as needed. She
also has suffered from depression for about three years and
has difficulty sleeping at night. She takes Cymbalta,
Seroquel, and Resterol (occasionally) to treat the depression
and insomnia. AR 59-60. She also takes thyroid medication
because her thyroid was removed in 2005. AR 57-58.
addition to her primary care physician, Plaintiff also sees
Dr. Fisher, a pain management specialist every two months. AR
60. She participated in physical therapy about a year and a
half ago but it did not help. AR 60. She does stretching
exercises in the morning if her daughter is home to help her
off the floor. AR 61. She has a TENS unit that she wears for
about six hours a day once a week. She also occasionally
wears a back brace, but it is too constricting so she does
not wear it often. AR 61-62.
days are spent watching television and playing computer games
on her Kindle. AR 63. She tries to go to church on Sundays
but it is difficult because the pews are really hard to sit
in. AR 64. Plaintiff occasionally goes shopping at the mall
or grocery store with her daughter but she usually
“poops out” and sits on a bench. AR 64. She
pushes the cart and her daughter places the items to be
purchased in the cart. AR 65. Plaintiff can go to the store
by herself to get an item, but she generally does not go
alone - her medications make her drowsy and she chooses not
to drive because the vibrations hurt her back. AR 77. She
only drives her car short distances about once every two
weeks to Dr. Gordon's office which is approximately four
minutes from her house. AR 78.
of daily activities, Plaintiff can vacuum, although it is
“tough, ” and she hand washes dishes at the sink
for short periods of time. AR 65. She is able to put clothes
in the washing machine and fold them once they are out of the
dryer, however, her daughter has to pull the clothes out of
the washer and the dryer because Plaintiff is unable to bend
down. AR 65-66. Plaintiff further testified that she took
care of a family friend full-time in November 2013 which
entailed sitting and watching TV all day. AR 67-68. She left
the position in May 2013 because the friend fell down and she
needed to be lifted which was more care than Plaintiff was
able to provide. AR 68.
stated that she is able to sit for ten minutes for a total of
an hour each day. AR 73-74. She can also stand for about
fifteen minutes at a time for a total of an hour each day. AR
74. Sitting is easier than standing. AR 74. She can walk a
block and can walk up a flight of stairs if she has help. AR
75. She is able to lift and carry about ten pounds but her
doctors have not given her any restrictions. AR 75. She is
able to lift her ten pound dog off of a counter but not off
the floor. AR 75-76.
2012, the medical records note that Ms. Scott was
experiencing chronic low back pain. An MRI of the lumbar
spine showed left paracentral disc protrusion at ¶ 4-L5
measuring 3mm at ¶ 3-4, a disc measuring 3mm, and at
¶ 5-S1 a 4mm disc protrusion. AR 302. Increased pain and
numbness on the right lower extremity was also noted.
Plaintiff's pain was a six to seven on a ten ...