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Baker v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 7, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.


          Honorable Jan M. Adler United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff India Viola Baker (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Defendant Social Security Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin's (“Defendant”) determination that she is not entitled to supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who was born on August 21, 1990, was twenty-one years old when she filed her applications for benefits. (Admin. R. at 211.) She did not complete high school, but obtained a General Educational Development (“GED”) degree. (Id. at 83.) She has held a few part-time jobs, each lasting for only a short period of time. (Id. at 80-82.) In an application for SSI protectively filed on May 25, 2012, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of May 25, 2012. (Id. at 211.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on September 6, 2012, and upon reconsideration on December 6, 2012. (Id. at 113-123, 124-134.) On December 30, 2012, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. (Id. at 148-150.) A hearing was conducted on July 8, 2014 by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert Iafe, who determined on September 26, 2014 that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 37-44.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision (Id. at 26). The Appeals Council for the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 1, 2016. (Id. at 1-4.) Plaintiff then commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         A. Seagate Medical Group (2011)

         On November 15, 2011, Dr. Gregory Nicholson performed a Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation of Plaintiff at the request of the Department of Social Security. (Id. at 330.) Dr. Nicholson reviewed Social Security Disability Report Form SSA-3368 and conducted a mental status examination. (Id.) Plaintiff reported she was bothered by hearing voices speaking when there was no one there, although she could not remember what the voices said. (Id. at 330-31.) She also reported feeling paranoid and fearful that someone would harm her. (Id. at 331.) Plaintiff informed Dr. Nicholson that she experienced insomnia, decreased appetite, trouble concentrating, and decreased interest in normal activities. (Id.) She told him she stopped working as a cashier due to shortness of breath. (Id. at 331-32.) Plaintiff also reported feeling suicidal in the past and said she had attempted suicide multiple times. (Id. at 331.) Plaintiff denied any history or symptoms related to mania or anxiety disorders, or any history of psychiatric hospitalizations. (Id.) Plaintiff was not seeing a psychiatrist at the time of the evaluation. (Id.)

         Plaintiff reported she dropped out of school in the 12th grade. (Id.) She denied any history of street drug use, problems related to drinking, or legal history. (Id. at 331-32.) Plaintiff also stated she did not have her own place to live and “stay[s] with anybody who will let [her].” (Id. at 332.) She indicated she did not cook and other people gave her food, but stated she did her own laundry, and had no difficulty with dressing, bathing, or hygiene. (Id.) She also indicated she did not drive because she did not have a license. (Id.) She stated she could handle cash and get out on her own. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson's mental status examination consisted of observations in several different categories. Dr. Nicholson first reported on Plaintiff's appearance, attitude and behavior, noting Plaintiff arrived neatly and casually groomed. (Id.) Plaintiff made good eye contact and good interpersonal contact and was generally cooperative. (Id.) Plaintiff volunteered information spontaneously with no psychomotor agitation or retardation. (Id.) Plaintiff appeared to be genuine and truthful and there was no evidence of exaggeration or manipulation. (Id.) Dr. Nicholson also noted that Plaintiff did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson found Plaintiff's thought processes to be coherent and organized. (Id.) He remarked there was no tangentially or loosening of associations. (Id.) Plaintiff reported hallucinations and paranoia related to her thought content. (Id.) She denied plans to harm herself or others and did not appear to be responding to internal stimuli. (Id. at 332-33.) Plaintiff's mood was depressed and her affect was dysphoric, which Dr. Nicholson noted was appropriate and congruent with her thought content. (Id. at 333.) Plaintiff was not tearful. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson found Plaintiff's speech to be normal and clearly articulated. (Id.) He did not observe stammering, dysarthria, neologisms, tangentiality, circumstantiality, or loosened, unusual or blocked associations. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson reported Plaintiff's intellectual functioning was alert and oriented to time, place, person, and purpose. (Id.) Plaintiff appeared to Dr. Nicholson to be of average intelligence. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson tested Plaintiff's memory and reported she was able to recall three items immediately, two out of three items after five minutes, and three out of three items with hints. (Id.) He administered a digit span test of six forward and three backward. (Id.) Dr. Nicholson noted Plaintiff's fund of knowledge was grossly intact and her insight and judgment appeared to be grossly intact. (Id.) Plaintiff was also asked to spell “world” to which she responded she had trouble with spelling. (Id.) She was able to perform a serial threes test and correctly stated 80 cents would be received from a dollar if two oranges were bought at 10 cents each. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson's diagnostic impression consisted of the following:

AXIS I: 1. Psychotic Disorder, not otherwise specified.
2. Depressive Disorder, not otherwise specified.
AXIS II: No diagnosis
AXIS III: Deferred to the appropriate specialist.
AXIS IV: Psychosocial stressors during the past year: Financial stress.
AXIS V: Current GAF: 55[1]

(Id. at 334.)

         Dr. Nicholson reported his diagnosis of psychotic disorder was based on Plaintiff's history of hallucinations and paranoia. (Id.) The depressive disorder diagnosis was based on Plaintiff's history of depressed mood, dysphoric affect and neurovegetative symptoms of depression. (Id.) Dr. Nicholson opined Plaintiff's condition was expected to improve in the next twelve months with active treatment. (Id.)

         Dr. Nicholson's functional assessment of Plaintiff included the following:

1. Plaintiff is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple one or two-step job instructions.
2. Plaintiff is able to do detailed and complex instructions.
3. Plaintiff's ability to relate and interact with coworkers and the public is mildly limited.
4. Plaintiff's ability to maintain concentration and attention, persistence and pace is mildly limited.
5. Plaintiff's ability to accept instructions from supervisors is not limited.
6. Plaintiff's ability to maintain regular attendance in the work place and perform work activities on a consistent basis is mildly limited.
7. Plaintiff's ability to perform work activities without special or additional supervision is not limited.

(Id. at 334-335.) Dr. Nicholson also reported Plaintiff was capable of handling funds. (Id. at 335.)

         B. Seagate Medical Group (2012)

         On June 29, 2012, Plaintiff met with Dr. Douglas R. Dolnak, who performed a Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation at the request of the Department of Social Security. (Id. at 363-368.) Dr. Dolnak also reviewed Social Security Disability Report Form SSA-3368. (Id. at 363.)

         Dr. Dolnak reported Plaintiff appeared to be a reliable historian. (Id.) Plaintiff informed him she applied for disability because of her chronic worry and anxiety about finances, health, future and being homeless. (Id.) Plaintiff also reported daily worry and frustration about her health and a history of irregular heavy vaginal bleeding. (Id.) Plaintiff indicated she experienced daytime fatigue, low energy, occasional insomnia and restless sleep. (Id.)

         Dr. Dolnak's mental examination consisted of his observations in several different categories. He first reported on Plaintiff's appearance, attitude and behavior, noting Plaintiff arrived on time, casually dressed and in no acute distress. (Id. at 365.) She ambulated well, sat in the chair comfortably, and was pleasant, cooperative, and not agitated. (Id.) Dr. Dolnak noted her mood was dysphoric with mild anxiety. (Id.) Her affect was constricted, not labile. (Id.)

         Dr. Dolnak also reported Plaintiff's thought content and processes were clear and goal directed. (Id.) Dr. Dolnak reported feelings of helplessness and frustration colored the interview. (Id.) Plaintiff reported nightmares and occasional flashbacks related to prior trauma with occasional anticipatory anxiety. (Id.) Plaintiff also reported she was easily startled. (Id.) Plaintiff denied suicidal ideation with plan or intent, but did report homicidal ideation with plan or intent. (Id.) Plaintiff reported occasional difficulties with attention and concentration: she stated she gets distracted, forgets things around the house, and misplaces objects. (Id.) Plaintiff reported her difficulties affected her two to three days out of the week. (Id.) Plaintiff denied other severe symptoms for mania, bipolar disorder or psychosis. (Id.) Dr. Dolnak reported Plaintiff did not seem to be internally preoccupied. (Id.)

         Dr. Dolnak reported Plaintiff was alert and oriented to person, place, and time; she did not know the date, but knew the month and year. (Id. at 366.) Dr. Dolnak performed memory and cognition tests. (Id.) Plaintiff could recall three items immediately, and two out of three items after five minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff was able to perform serial sevens and serial twos from twenty to ten. (Id.) Plaintiff could spell “world” forward but not backward. (Id.) Plaintiff could do three digits backward and three digits forwards. (Id.) Dr. Dolnak reported Plaintiff demonstrated mild difficulty with attention and concentration during the interview. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was able to state similarities between an apple and an orange and between a coat and a shirt. (Id.) Plaintiff was not able to interpret the proverb, “as plain as the nose on your face”. (Id.) Dr. Dolnak reported Plaintiff's insight and judgment appeared fair regarding the current situation. (Id.)

         Dr. Dolnak's diagnostic impression consisted ...

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