United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Steagall (“Plaintiff”) brings this action seeking
to overturn the decision by the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (hereinafter the
“Commissioner” or the “Agency”)
denying her application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). The parties consented, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636, to the jurisdiction of the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below,
the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
filed an application for SSI on July 23, 2012.
(Administrative Record (“AR”) 166). The Agency
initially denied Plaintiff's claim for SSI on November 7,
2012. (AR 197). Plaintiff filed a Request for
Reconsideration. (AR 203). The Agency denied the request for
reconsideration. (AR 204). Plaintiff filed a Request for
Hearing by Administrative Law Judge on July 26, 2013. (AR
211). On April 18, 2014, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Tamara Turner-Jones conducted a hearing
to review Plaintiff's claim. (AR 28-44). On October 23,
2014, ALJ Dana McDonald conducted a supplemental hearing. (AR
45-56). On November 7, 2014, ALJ McDonald found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 7, 22). Plaintiff sought
review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council
on November 26, 2014. (AR 5). On April 18, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied review. (AR 1-3). As such, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR
1). Plaintiff commenced the instant action on May 12, 2016.
(Dkt. No. 1).
was born on July 13, 1967. (AR 20, 33). Plaintiff left school
after completing the eleventh grade. (AR 876). Plaintiff
worked as a hairstylist until 2007. (AR 508). At the April
2014 hearing, Plaintiff testified that she also previously
worked in childcare, watching two young children for her
sister-in-law. (AR 35-36). Plaintiff testified, however, that
she stopped working because she heard voices telling her not
to work. Plaintiff has not sought work since 2005 or 2006.
records dated July 2, 2014 note that Plaintiff has seven
children between the ages of 14 and 26. (AR 876). While
Plaintiff testified to living with her daughters (AR 34),
medical records state that she lives with one daughter, her
sister, her sister's children, as well as several pets.
May 17, 2013 medical records list “TANF, Food
Stamps” under “Current Source of Income”.
(AR 508). Additionally, Plaintiff testified that she receives
benefits for her minor children. (AR 38).
records from the Riverside County Department of Mental
Health, Alcohol and Drug Services, dated January 14, 2013
state that Plaintiff's mother denied that Plaintiff had
any current or past use of alcohol or street drugs. (AR 716).
However, an Emergency Room Continuation of Care Report dated
February 9, 2013 notes that Plaintiff “was brought in
by Emergency Medical Services, secondary to doing PCP
today” (AR 800) and that Plaintiff “stated she
smoked some PCP and  doesn't remember what
happen[ed].” (AR 804). Medical records from this date
also list “drug use” under “Past Medical
History”. (AR 803).
17, 2013, Plaintiff denied substance abuse to consultative
physician Dr. Paul Martin. However, Dr. Martin's comments
state that “her behavior on exam certainly raises
concerns regarding this area.” (AR 507-508).
August 5, 2013, an Emergency Room Continuation of Care Report
notes that Plaintiff's “urine drugs screen”
tested positive for PCP. (AR 774). Additionally, an August
10, 2013 Emergency Room Report notes PCP abuse under past
medical history. (AR 766). This same report states that
Plaintiff had been discharged from Menifee Valley Medical
Center a few days prior with a diagnosis of “altered
level of consciousness and delirium, secondary to PCP 
abuse.” (AR 767).
August 13, 2013, another Emergency Room Report states that
Plaintiff came in complaining of severe pain and wanting pain
medications, however had “slurred speech” and
“was positive for PCP”. (AR 763).
health records from August 16, 2013 note that Plaintiff's
landlord reported concerns about Plaintiff's well-being.
Specifically, the landlord reported that she had recently
seen Plaintiff and that she “could hardly talk and
appeared to be under the influence of medications that made
her look ‘out of it'. [The Landlord] verbalized
concern that [Plaintiff] was driving in this condition and
that she also drove her two children this way as well.”
(AR 691). Case management records from January 2013 indicate
that Plaintiff received a DUI while driving under the
influence of her prescription medications. (AR 684).
October 8, 2013, Plaintiff stated during an interview that
she “‘had just started using PCP this past
year', but that she ‘has been clean for x4
months.' Later, during the interview [Plaintiff] stated
that she ‘has been using [PCP] a long time.'”
(AR 687). She further stated that she “hears voices
(‘not now, I took my meds') that tell her to
use.” (Id.). That same day, Plaintiff
“stated that she has been clean and sober for x45 days
from PCP” and expressed “how she feels she
‘gets worse when using' and ‘the voices tell
her to do bad things, worse when on PCP.'”
Plaintiff also denied auditory or visual hallucinations.
However, she stated that she experiences hallucinations when
not on her medication. (AR 688). Additionally, notes from
Plaintiff's group mental health service on April 8, 2014
state that Plaintiff “checked into group, introduced
herself, drug of choice as PCP”. (AR 894).
from Plaintiff's orthopedic consultation with Dr. Mario
Luna on June 30, 2014 report, however, that Plaintiff
“has never used drugs”. (AR 864). Likewise, on
July 2, 2014, Plaintiff had a psychological evaluation with
Dr. Kathy Vandenburgh. Under “Habits, ” Dr.
Vandenburgh's report states that Plaintiff “denies
a history of drug or alcohol abuse.” (AR 877).
“Legal, ” this report also states that Plaintiff
“reports a history of incarceration in prison for two
years in 2003 due to trying to hurt somebody else.”
(Id.). Medical records from May 17, 2013 similarly
state that plaintiff “acknowledged some involvement
with the legal system, including serving a prison term, but
she would not elaborate on the details.” (AR 508).
July 23, 2012 application for SSI alleged disability
beginning on March 27, 2007 due to a variety of conditions,
including asthma, hypertension, and severe carpal tunnel
syndrome. (AR 166). Beginning in January 2013, Plaintiff
sought mental health treatment and participated in group
therapy. (AR 648-720, 891-898). Treatment notes indicate that
Plaintiff exhibited restless motor activity, illogical
thought processes, bizarre thought content, paranoid
delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, poor eye
contact, irritability and a depressed mood. (AR 648-702). On
February 20, 2013, Plaintiff received a diagnosis of
“psychosis, NOS.” (AR 675).
April 18, 2014, Plaintiff testified about her work history,
symptoms, and limitations in response to the ALJ's
questions. (AR 32-43). Plaintiff testified that she could no
longer work due to back pain, auditory hallucinations and
difficulty being around others. (AR 42-43). In reference to
her imaginary person, Plaintiff stated that “Susan
tells me don't work. She doesn't want me to do
anything. Susan just wants me all to herself and we sit there
and we talk to each other and we talk to each other and those
people and stuff in my head.” (AR 42). She further
stated that she does not “like to be around a lot of
people. They put - Susan tells me to - she just wants me all
to herself and she doesn't want me to be around a lot of
testified about her daily living, stating that she could not
do household chores. (AR 38). She testified that her mother
and daughters help her to get dressed and take care of her
personal hygiene needs. (AR 37-38). She testified that she
goes to the grocery store once a month with her family.
However, she does not walk around the store but, rather, sits
in a “wheelie cart.” (AR 39). She further
testified that she watches TV “all day” and likes
to lay down. (AR 39).
Niraj Gupta, M.D.
had a mental health appointment with her treating physician,
Dr. Niraj Gupta, on September 17, 2014. (AR 891-898). During
this appointment, Dr. Gupta diagnosed Plaintiff with
“Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type” and “Mental
Retardation, Severity Unspecified.” (AR 896). Dr. Gupta
completed a “Narrative Report” based on this
appointment, noting that Plaintiff suffered from auditory and
visual hallucinations, that delusions and paranoid thoughts
influenced her actions or behavior, that she had a severe
memory deficit and a moderate judgment deficit, that she was
not able to complete a forty-hour work week without
decompensating, and that her diagnosis was
“chronic.” (AR 895). Dr. Gupta also noted,
however, that Plaintiff was able to manage her own funds in
her best interest. (AR 895). At this appointment, Dr. Gupta
provided a Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score of 50 for Plaintiff, indicating
that her mental impairment symptoms fell within the
“serious” range of severity. (AR 896).
Marianne Tahl, M.D.
October 10, 2011, Plaintiff's treating Physician, Dr.
Marianne Tahl, wrote a letter on Plaintiff's behalf
stating that Plaintiff was currently under her care and
“may not return to work at this time.” (AR 482).
On March 15, 2013, Plaintiff called Dr. Tahl's office
“requesting a letter stating she needs to be off work
from January 2013 [until] . . . further notice.” (AR
576). On March 29, 2013, Dr. Tahl wrote a letter on
Plaintiff's behalf stating that she “may not return
to work indefinitely as of 1/13/2013, due to a medical
condition.” (AR 862). On April 11, ...