United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING CLAIMANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 14, 15
R. LLOYD, United States Magistrate Judge
Sandra Holguin (“Claimant”) appeals a decision
denying social security disability benefits and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. Dkt. No. 1. She seeks a reversal of the
Commissioner's decision and a judgment on the record in
her favor or, alternatively, remand for further
administrative proceedings. Dkt. No. 14. Defendant filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment defending the ALJ's
decision. Dkt. No. 15. Each party consented to magistrate
judge jurisdiction. Dkt. Nos. 8, 11. For the reasons
described below, the court denies Claimant's motion for
summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's
cross-motion for summary judgment.
was born in 1963 and completed part of high school. AR 37,
61. From 2001 to 2002, she worked in electronics assembly, a
job she performed primarily in a sitting position. AR 34-35.
From 2002 to 2003, Claimant wrapped baked goods in a
wholesale store. AR 34. And in 2005 and 2006, she worked as
an in-home caregiver. AR 33. While working as a caregiver,
Claimant injured her back after several months of
transferring her patient without assistance. AR 38. By late
2006, she stopped working due to the
“excruciating” pain: “I could not sit,
squat, bend, I mean, just moving all the way around,
nothing.” AR 38.
applied for social security disability benefits and
supplemental social security income in December 2012 and
January 2013, respectively, alleging a disability on-set date
of October 1, 2008. AR 10. Her claims-which alleged
disability based on degenerative disc disease, chronic back
problems, nerve damage, high blood pressure, and anxiety, AR
61-were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 10.
record contains numerous reports and various physicians'
opinions. A 2010 MRI of Claimant's spine identified a
mild disc bulge consistent with an annular tear. AR 308. The
MRI report observed that the annular tear “may act as a
source of chemical irritation to the nerve root.”
Id. A 2012 MRI report indicated that three
osteophyte complexes were “mildly indenting” the
spinal cord. AR 425. And a 2014 MRI found mild central canal
stenosis. AR 751.
was examined by Dr. Robinson in January of 2007. Dr. Robinson
observed that Claimant had a positive straight leg-raising
test and recommended that she be limited to “sedentary
to semi-sedentary occupations.” AR 275, 286. Claimant,
Dr. Robinson stated, “could probably sit for fairly
long periods of time provided she is able to take breaks for
about 1-2 minutes every 30-45 minutes to relieve back
pain.” AR 286.
Feinberg examined Claimant in 2010. He reported that Claimant
had no muscular atrophy in her lower body and that her lower
body strength was normal. AR 323. He also stated that
“straight leg-raising was negative for sciatica,
” and that her gait was normal. Id. Dr.
Feinberg seemed skeptical of the results of the MRI described
above, stating: “She was reported to have an abnormal
MRI, although quite frankly her objective physical
examination today is normal and I had her return for
electrodiagnostic testing which revealed no
abnormalities.” AR 326. As for Claimant's range of
motion, Dr. Feinberg noted that “lumbar flexibility was
reduced with some discomfort at the ends of range, ”
but that “[h]ip and lower body range of motion was
otherwise within normal limits.” AR 323. The doctor
stated that he would not have Claimant work in a position as
rigorous as her prior in-home caregiving job and concluded
that she was precluded from “heavy lifting, repeated
bending and stooping” and “prolonged weight
bearing.” AR 326.
was treated from 2009 to 2011 by Dr. Fujimoto. Dr. Fujimoto
observed that Claimant had an antalgic gait in July 2010, but
that she had not had an antalgic gait several months earlier.
AR 370, 378. He stated in 2011 that Claimant's functional
limitations were being managed by her medication. AR 354. Dr.
Fujimoto also noted that Claimant had a mild decrease in
sensation to pinprick and light touch on her right foot and a
negative straight-leg raising test. AR 366. He prescribed
“modified” work duty, with “no heavy
lifting, repeated bending or stooping for the spine, and no
prolonged weight bearing.” AR 352.
Hsieh treated Claimant from 2008 to 2013. In 2008, he
observed evidence of “a right L5-S1
radiculopathy.” AR 485, 495. He later reported that
Claimant's gait was “mildly antalgic, ” that
her lumbar range of motion was “moderately limited to
flexion, with pain, ” and that her straight-leg raising
test was negative on the left and positive on the right. AR
428. In 2015, Doctor Hsieh wrote a letter stating that,
though he had last seen Claimant for treatment in 2013, he
“would be doubtful that she would be able to continue
working” due to “pain and functional
limitation” unless her symptomatology had
“significantly improve[d].” AR 878.
treating doctor, Doctor Lifshutz, also wrote a letter in 2015
stating that Claimant (a current patient of his) could not
work at that time. AR 879.
Claimant was examined by a psychologist, Dr. Goldman. Dr.
Goldman found Claimant to be an unreliable historian and
assessed “malingering.” AR 702. She observed that
Claimant was “only superficially cooperative throughout
the evaluation” and “did not make an adequate
effort on the tasks presented to her.” AR 702. Dr.
Goldman further observed that Claimant drove without
restriction, bathed and groomed herself without help, and
could pay bills independently. AR 701. She concluded that
Claimant's functional limitations “were unable to
be accurately assessed due to malingering.” AR 702.
addition to the above, the record contains evidence of
Claimant's drug use. Claimant reportedly used cocaine in
the 1980s and in 1999, as well as in 2005 and 2006. AR 315,
316. When asked by Dr. Feinberg, Claimant stated that
“she does not remember having a cocaine problem in
2005” but that she could not recall the last time she
used cocaine. AR 325. Claimant also may have lied to Dr.
Fujimoto about her cocaine use: she tested positive for
cocaine in 2011, though she denied having used the drug and
demanded a re-test (which was denied). AR 351. After
discovering the positive test and the fact that Claimant had
obtained Vicodin from five other doctors besides himself, Dr.
Fujimoto terminated his relationship with her. AR 351.
hearing before the ALJ, Claimant testified that she stopped
working in 2006 due to her injury. AR 38. She stated that she
experienced constant back pain, which radiated down the right
side of her body. AR 41. Due to the pain, she could stand for
20 minutes before needing a ...